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Britain sets standard for biodegradable plastic

Confusion over how the terms ‘biodegradable,’ ‘bioplastic,’ and ‘compostable’ has been addressed with the British Standards Institute (BSI) setting a stricter standard for those terms.

In its role as the UK national standards body, (BSI) has set the standard that now requires a product to break down into organic matter and carbon dioxide in the open air within two years to be considered biodegradable plastic.

The change came after the Department of Business and Industry, asked experts to help develop standards for biodegradability and composability of plastics. The call was set out in a paper, Call For Evidence: Standards For Bio-Based, Biodegradable, and Compostable Plastics.

This means that a business will need to prove its products break down without leaving any microplastics.

The standardised protocols for testing at each stage will include:

  1. Weathering exposure of test polyolefinic materials for a defined period of time, including chemical analysis to yield quantifiable measurement of chemical transformation into a wax.
  2. Eco-toxicity testing upon the wax to ensure no hazardous substances are present.
  3. Biodegradation testing under mesophilic (real-world) soil conditions.

Plastic manufacturers will also have the ability to get data on the performance of the biodegradability process of polyolefinic material and deliver testing laboratories with a standardized protocol, for the first time.

According to the Minister for Business and Industry, Nadhim Zahawi, “The government, consumers and businesses are taking collective action to tackle global plastic pollution, helping to reduce harm to wildlife, clean up our oceans and reach our trailblazing net-zero goals. To support this ambition, the government published a call for evidence on biodegradable plastics, which will soon publish its findings. We always welcome innovation aimed at increasing the sustainability of plastics, and will monitor the introduction of this new standard with interest,”

Steering group

The standard was developed by a steering group of experts in the field of plastics, and was sponsored by Polymateria.

Polymateria CEO Niall Dunne said that the standard was designed around the consumer. “We wanted to cut through this eco-classification jungle and take a more optimistic view around inspiring and motivating the consumer to do the right thing. We now have a base to substantiate any claims that are being made and to create a new area of credibility around the whole biodegradable space,” he added.