- Biodegradable plastics are as likely to damage marine life as other plastics, despite labeling claims that tell consumers otherwise, according to a United Nations report. The report concluded that such misinformation about the biodegradability of polymers "appear to be influenced by commercial interests."
- Findings of this sort have environmentalists worried that consumers will improperly dispose of what they believe is harmless, unknowingly contributing to the deteriorating health of ocean environments.
- Achim Schmidt, executive director of the UN’s Environment Program, said his organization estimates 20 million metric tons of plastic wind up in the world’s oceans each year according to Plastics News.
As the public is called on to embrace environmentally sound and socially responsible practices, environmentalists push for ways to guide them in their choices as consumers, such as green labeling. More manufacturers are affixing these labels to their products. This marketing trend has led to a crackdown on claims that products are biodegradable, prompting the Federal Trade Commission to set a new policy on use of the "biodegradable" label.
"Some evidence, albeit limited, suggests that public perceptions about whether an item is biodegradable can influence littering behavior. For example, if a bag is marked as biodegradable it is more likely to be discarded inappropriately," the UN report concluded.
The British Plastics Federation (BFF) responded by acknowledging that biodegradable materials will not end marine litter.
"The key issue is to prevent plastics going into the environment in the first place," BPF said. "A mix of solutions is required, including behavioral change, increased recycling, and the adoption of sound waste management practices by a whole host of stakeholders including shipping lines, owners of leisure craft, port authorities, and coastal local authorities."