UN released report on impacts of Biodegradable plastics on marine environment

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Who: Report on impacts of Biodegradable plastics on marine environment
What: Released by United Nations
When: 17 November 2015

The United Nations (UN) on 17 November 2015 released a report on impacts of Biodegradable plastics on marine environment. The report is titled as Biodegradable Plastics and Marine Litter: Misconceptions, Concerns and Impacts on Marine Environments.

As per the report, widespread adoption of products labelled biodegradable will not significantly decrease the volume of plastic entering the ocean or the physical and chemical risks that plastics pose to marine environment.

Highlights of the report

• It aims to verify a thesis that plastics considered biodegradable may play an important role in reducing the negative environmental impacts.
• The report finds that complete biodegradation of plastics occurs in conditions that are met in marine environments, with some polymers requiring industrial composters and prolonged temperatures of above 50°C to disintegrate.
• There is also limited evidence suggesting that labelling products as biodegradable increases the public’s inclination to litter.
• Recent estimates from UN Environment Programme have shown as much as 20 million tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans each year. Once in the ocean, plastic does not go away, but breaks down into microplastic particles.
• It finds that plastics most commonly used for general applications, such as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are not biodegradable in marine environments.
• Polymers, which biodegrade under favourable conditions on land, are much slower to break up in the ocean and their widespread adoption is likely to contribute to marine litter.
• The study also analyzes the environmental impacts of oxo-degradable plastics, enriched with a pro oxidant, such as manganese, which precipitates their fragmentation.
• The report also says that it should be assumed that microplastics created in the fragmentation process remain in the ocean, where they can be ingested by marine organisms and facilitate the transport of harmful microbes, pathogens and algal species.