Biodegradable Plastic Venture Hits a Stumbling Block: The Recycling Industry


Image: cornell.edu

Danny Clark quit his communications job a few years ago to collaborate with microbiologists and polymer chemists to establish a company, ENSO Bottles, that would make recyclable and biodegradable plastic bottles. But since launching the company in 2008, he has come up against a hurdle in a surprising place: the $400 billion recycling industry. USA Today has the story, describing how the company has figured out a way, it claims, to make bottles that can start to biodegrade in 250 days or can take up to five years, depending on environmental conditions. Clark also says that independent testing has shown that the additive his company produces to create the biodegradable characteristics does not diminish the quality or effectiveness of the plastic (a chronic problem in the plastics industry).

But the recycling industry doesn't want anything to do with it, saying it is not convinced by the technology and that even if the technology does work, business will be hurt.

From USA Today:

More than a year ago, the association sent out a news release to all PET manufacturers asking them to refrain from using biodegradable additives. The experts say biodegradable products are more difficult and costly to recycle than PET bottles.

David Cornell of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers said Enso has tried to convince them that the biodegradable additive will not hurt their business, but the recycling industry still fears it poses a threat.

"So far, we haven't seen that it does degrade or is not hostile to recycling. If it doesn't degrade, then who wants it? If it does degrade, what does it do to recycling?"


ENSO is by no means the perfect solution to our plastic bottle problem, but as long as efforts to find that solution are frustrated by an industry that is supposed to be (or at least runs with the image of) being environmentally friendly, progress is sure to come as quickly as we can expect plastic pollution to disappear on its own.

More on plastic
A World of Reasons to Ditch Bottled Water
How Many Cities Have a Ban on Plastic Bags?
An Ocean of Plastic.. In Birds' Guts (Slideshow)
And biodegradable plastic
Is New Biodegradable Plastic the Answer?
Compostable and "Biodegradable" Plastics Provide False Sense of Responsibility

Tags: Biodegradable | Bioplastics | Plastics | Recycling