New study backs Symphony’s oxo-bio additive

Symphony Environmental Technologies has announced that Intertek has produced a new life cycle assessment that supports its d2w oxo-biodegradable additive.

The projects compared Symphony’s d2w oxo-biodegradable plastic carrier and bread bags with conventional and bio-based plastic bags.

Environmental quality and safety services provider Intertek claims that its LCA “puts the environmental credentials of Symphony’s d2w plastic bags way ahead of the other types of plastic”.

Symphony is an oxo-biodegradable plastic technology firm.

Symphony chief executive Michael Laurier said: “Plastic litter is a serious problem, which cannot be ignored by calling it a ‘behavioural issue’. While only 0.75% of plastic carrier bags enter the litter stream each year this amounts to over 48 million bags in the UK alone as estimated in this LCA. The LCA confirms that oxo-biodegradable plastic offers real environmental benefits.”

Symphony claims the findings from the assessment show that:

  • The oxo-biodegradable bag performed 75% better than the conventional bag in the litter category. In all other categories the oxo-biodegradable and conventional bags were almost the same.
  • The bio-based bag had the worst performance in 10 of the 11 environmental impact categories. The bio-based bag was superior to the conventional bag in only the litter-effects category, but inferior to the oxo-biodegradable bag in that category.
  • The impact of oxo-degradable plastics in landfill is the same as conventional plastics, with no anaerobic degradation and no emission of methane. The report further confirmed that bio-based bags emit methane (a powerful greenhouse gas) in landfill.
  • Bio-based plastic cannot be recycled with conventional plastic in a mixed, post-consumer waste stream without compromising the recycling process, but oxo-biodegradable plastic can be recycled.
  • The inclusion of 50% recycled content reduced the global warming impact of the conventional bags by 19%. However, the recycled content had a negative effect on seven of the environmental impact categories, mostly due to extra transportation and the need to make them thicker and heavier for the same strength.
  • The best way to reduce the impact of plastic carrier bags is to re-use them more often, minimise the transportation needed for recycling, and make them oxo-biodegradable. The LCA noted that carrier bags are often re-used and should not be described as single-use bags.

Dr John Williams, head of materials at Bioeconomy Consultants NNFCC, criticised the LCA. He said: “We would ask that this study be published in the public domain so it is available for scrutiny. Until then it would be difficult to verify its conclusions. Those in the industry, including ourselves, would be very interested to read the report in full in order to see if the conclusions are correct in the context of this LCA. But our position on oxo degradables plastic additives remains unchanged. Promoting sensible and certified routes to re-use, recycle and dispose of plastics, is central to our future low carbon ambitions. Artificially accelerating the degradation of an oil-based plastics is neither economically or environmentally sensible.”

Link to Intertek report below:




  1. Where is this study published?

  2. Can you clarify if Oxi Biodegradables really work, supposedly they break down but still leave residual plastic in very small quantities in the ground that cannot be collected or disposaed of properly. Is this good for the environment?

  3. I read these conclusions and my first impression was the author was really struggling to find good information. Who decides what ‘performed better’ meant? As Dr Williams said all the report data, test conditions should be made available for independent people to access it and publish some real comparative data, not just some ‘performed better’ statement.
    There is no mention of how the test was done, was there any artificial pretreatment (heat aging) done on the oxo material? How was biodegradation accessed? Was it CO2 emissions, mass reduction, CH4 emissions?
    We just have to ask, what advantages do oxo-degradable plastics offer? As the author states, 0.75% of plastic ends up as litter, yet they want to put oxo degradable additives in 100% of the plastic bags to cover the 0.75% that are littered? What about the other 99.25% that go to landfills or are reused. Oxo degradables serve no advantage for them at all. For the bags that are reused, oxodegradable is a disadvantage as the bag will fall to bits. The author proudly states that oxodegradable bags will not break down in a landfill and produce methane, a gas with high global warming potential. This is pure salesmanship and is masking a bigger truth. What they are saying is that in a landfill the bags will not breakdown but behave just like any other conventional bag. So in this situation (where about 90+% of bags end up) oxodegradable has no advantage at all. As we, as a society with increasing natural resource pressures, go forwards, one of the better ways to get energy is the renewable energy from landfills, i.e. capture the methane and generate electricity from it. Combusting methane is a lot cleaner than combusting coal or oil, so over all collecting methane and generating electricity from that and displacing coal, could have less global warming effect. So we, in increasing numbers of places as people start to realise this, are wanting landfills to generate methane so it can be captured.
    The use of biodegradable materials is a much better option for our consumable, or single use plastic items. First it ought to be banning disposable plastic items and using paper or reusable items then lastly if we have to use plastic for these situations make it biodegradable plastic that will biodegrade in a landfill. This will cater for the 90+% of plastic bags, not just the 0.75% of bags the author proudly states.

  4. In response to Jon Mortimore – yes oxo-biodegradable plastic (so called because it degrades first by oxidation) does really work, and has been proved in peer-reviewed scientific research cited in the LCA. The fundamental point is that the prodegradant additive included at manufacture causes ordinary plastic to convert at the end of its useful life in the presence of oxygen into a material with a completely different molecular structure. At that stage it is no longer a plastic and has become a material which is inherently biodegradable in the open environment in the same way as a leaf. (For a video of plastic film degrading, go to

    In response to Jane W the Intertek LCA is published on

    In response to John Williams, if he is a scientist he should not be saying that his “position on oxo degradable plastic additives remains unchanged” before he has even read the LCA. Also, if he is a scientist he will know that the term “oxo-degradable” which he uses describes only the first or abiotic part of the process. The correct terminology is “oxo-biodegradable,” which is defined by CEN TR 15351 as “degradation resulting from oxidative and cell-mediated phenomena, either simultaneously or successively.”
    Mr. Williams’ comment is not however surprising from the NNFCC, whose remit is to promote bio-based plastics, which are in commercial competition with oxo-biodegradable plastics. This is a QUANGO which the government should close down, as there are many better uses for scarce public money. Of course it is sensible for anyone to promote responsible ways to re-use, recycle and dispose of plastics, but oxo-biodegradable plastic is intended to deal with the problem of plastic waste which despite Mr. Williams’ best efforts is NOT disposed of responsibly and instead lies or floats around, despoiling our environment for future generations. Artificially accelerating the degradation of oil-based plastics is exactly the right thing to do in those circumstances, and the United Arab Emirates is the first government in the world to make it compulsory. Before passing this law they did extensive due-diligence on the technology.

  5. Thank you, I see it is not peer reviewed and has a very limited scope, so useful for marketing but nothing else

  6. @Symphony – I think you will find that the NNFCC is a private company who takes no core funding from the Government rather their income is from membership and consultancy. Thus it is not a quango like WRAP

  7. Always good to see the debate on this issue descend into the usual Symphony v A.N.Other squabble. The entertainment value is always worth the read. Not sure that anyone is being particularly well served by their PR companies. Strikes me that a Welsh carrier bag fee might have more positive effect on the impact of litter than any of these technical debates.

  8. Hard to see how one could take the views of Ross Headifen seriously, however, if someone does:
    1. Who decides what ‘performed better’ meant? Intertek decides. They are one of the world’s leading environmental consultants. The LCA has been published, and explains exactly how they arrived at their conclusions.
    2. If Mr. Headifen can tell us at the point of manufacture which individual plastic bag is going to be littered, of course only that bag would need to be oxo-biodegradable. However as neither he nor anyone else could ever know, it is necessary to make all the bags oxo-biodegradeble in case they end up in the environment as litter.
    This is a kind of insurance, for which there is little or no extra cost.
    3. For bags that are re-used, oxo-biodegradability is not a disadvantage, because they will not “fall to bits” until their useful life has expired. Who would be silly enough to specify bags which will not be fit for purpose?
    4. For bags that end up in landfill, oxo-biodegradability is an advantage because so long as air is available they will degrade and assist compaction. However, their main advantage in landfill (like conventional plastic) but unlike paper and bio-based plastic bags, (and the bizarre plastic bags which are advertised as degrading in anaerobic conditions in landfill) oxo-biodegradable bags will not emit methane. Again if Mr. Headifen knew which individual bag would end up in a landfill which is designed to collect the gases, that bag would not need to be oxo-biodegradable, but he does not know. Therefore until all landfills in the world are designed to collect the gas it is better to use bags which will not degrade in anaerobic conditions and emit methane, which is a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2.
    5. The best way to generate energy from plastic is not to put it in a landfill at all, but to send it for thermal recycling, where an oxo-bio bag or a conventional bag would deliver a higher calorific value than paper or bio-based plastic

  9. I have had a read through the report. It opens with comments about the LCA commissioned by the Environment Agency, but Loughborough University at least talked to retailers and manufacturers. Intertek never approached me for information, despite the Co-operative and Somerfield appearing in the report. If they had, I would have been happy to help and I might have been able to prevent them from making some wrong assumptions:
    1) The bio-based polymer used within the bio-based bag is produced in Italy and shipped to a bag producer in China – wrong.
    2) The disposal of each bag is assumed to consist of a ‘current’ situation which includes landfill, incineration and litter, based on UK statistics – wrong.
    3) Recycling and composting have been excluded – wrong.
    4) Re-use has been excluded (re-use clearly happens, but is the same for all the bags considered) – wrong.
    5) The sensitivity analysis does not consider composting of bags, despite the fact the we sell compostable carrier bags in stores in Oldham, Trafford, Rochdale, Somerset Waste Partnership, South Hams and Oxford where local authorities accept them in their food waste collection as a complete replacement for food waste caddy liners.
    6) Even the bag capacities are incorrect.

    Who did Intertek speak to?

Leave a Reply