Biodegradability standards for carrier bags and plastic films in aquatic environments: a critical review

Harrison, Jesse P.; Boardman, Carl; O'Callaghan, Kenneth; Delort, Anne-Marie and Song, Jim (2018). Biodegradability standards for carrier bags and plastic films in aquatic environments: a critical review. Royal Society Open Science, 5, article no. 171792.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.171792

Abstract

Plastic litter is encountered in aquatic ecosystems across the globe, including polar environments and the deep sea. To mitigate the adverse societal and ecological impacts of this waste, there has been debate on whether ‘biodegradable’ materials should be granted exemptions from plastic bag bans and levies. However, great care must be exercised when attempting to define this term, due to the broad and complex range of physical and chemical conditions encountered within natural ecosystems. Here, we review existing international industry standards and regional test methods for evaluating the biodegradability of plastics within aquatic environments (wastewater, unmanaged freshwater and marine habitats). We argue that current standards and test methods are insufficient in their ability to realistically predict the biodegradability of carrier bags in these environments, due to several shortcomings in experimental procedures and a paucity of information in the scientific literature. Moreover, existing biodegradability standards and test methods for aquatic environments do not involve toxicity testing or account for the potentially adverse ecological impacts of carrier bags, plastic additives, polymer degradation products or small (microscopic) plastic particles that can arise via fragmentation. Successfully addressing these knowledge gaps is a key requirement for developing new biodegradability
standard(s) for lightweight carrier bags.

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