Plastics Environmental Council surprised over California Attorney General's lawsuit against Enso Plastics alleging false biodegradable bottle claims, says industry is developing biodegradability standard

MILTON, Georgia , November 1, 2011 (press release) – The Plastics Environmental Council (PEC) today expressed their surprise that California Attorney General Kamala Harris has filed suit at this time against bottled water companies Aquamantra Inc. and Balance Water and their bottle supplier, ENSO Plastics, charging that the companies’ claims that their bottles biodegrade are false. “In so doing,” notes Sen. Robert W. McKnight, the PEC’s chairman and a former Florida state Legislator, “the Attorney General may not be aware of the timing that was agreed upon by her state Legislature together with Californians Against Waste (CAW) to allow completion of our currently ongoing R&D program to develop a biodegradability standard specification acceptable to the State Senate’s Environmental Quality Committee before enacting SB567.” The latter, broader measure was written to supersede the existing law governing plastic food and beverage containers. “We want to partner with the State of California to provide indisputable research data on this important environmental issue in the form of a bonafide ASTM or equivalent standard specification that readily communicates proven biodegradation information to the consumer," adds Senator McKnight.

Dr. Charles J. Lancelot, the PEC’s Executive Director and a veteran of 40 years in the plastics industry, emphasized that to date, the PEC and its members companies in fact have produced a large body of laboratory-scale testing data with these additive systems. “These tests are executed under conditions that have been carefully worked out to come as closely as possible in the laboratory to conditions found in actual US landfills,” said Dr. Lancelot. He noted that it is widely recognized in the industry that biodegradation occurs in all US landfills receiving waste today at rates dependent upon moisture level, and that the refined laboratory testing conditions in place today approximate those in landfills in the wetter parts of the US, accessible to just under half of the population. “Unlike in commercial composters, which receive only between 5-8% of municipal solid waste and which operate on cycles of 180 days or less, landfill biodegradation processes, even for readily biodegradable food wastes in the wetter landfills, take several years,” said Dr. Lancelot.

“Even so, given the need to ensure that consumers receive accurate biodegradability information, and that they receive it concisely and definitively, the mass of test data available to date understandably is not considered acceptable by California legislators as the adequate, concise proof that consumers need,” notes Sen. McKnight. “So over the course of several months last spring, we presented our standard specification R&D program plans to several California lawmakers and their technical advisors, including Sen. Mark deSaulnier (D-Concord)”. Sen. deSaulnier authored the existing legislation under which the Attorney General’s current action is being taken. Sen. deSaulnier also authored the successor legislation, SB567, signed last month by Gov. Brown and scheduled to replace the existing law on January 01, 2013 with an even broader coverage of all plastic products.

The PEC’s R&D effort as presented to the California Legislature last Spring and as outlined in recent press releases is a long-term research study to produce the first-ever standard specification for the landfill biodegradation of petroleum- and natural gas-derived plastics that have been treated with additives that enhance biodegradation. The organization has partnered with Georgia Tech and North Carolina State University to execute this large-scale research and development program, headed by one of the world’s foremost experts on landfill technology, Professor Morton Barlaz of North Carolina State. The work was recently described in a news release from Georgia Tech. http://gtresearchnews.gatech.edu/biodegradation-of-plastics/. Once developed, the standard specification will reliably project the landfill biodegradation rates for a given PEC-certified product in a given range of landfills over a given range of moisture conditions with much more certainty and much more concisely for the consumer than has been possible today. Such full-scale performance criteria are not available from the best of today’s laboratory test data.

“The conversations among the PEC and the Legislature culminated in a landmark meeting in which an agreement was reached with both Senator deSaulnier and with CAW to allow the time needed for the PEC to complete the development of the biodegradation standard specification that the Legislature wanted,” Sen. McKnight said. The result of this meeting was to extend the implementation date for SB567 from January 01, 2012 to January 01, 2013. “Given this mandate to get the standard specification job done by that time, the PEC’s members made the major commitment required to push the project through,” according to Sen. McKnight.

“We would like to think that the three companies currently cited could cooperate with Attorney General Harris’s office and apply any needed qualifications to their claims based on the weight of the test evidence already in hand with the understanding that the agreed-to standard specification program is being run to completion,” said Sen. McKnight. “After all, assuming that the R&D indeed produces the needed standard specification and that it is incorporated into a further amended SB567 by January 01, 2013, the 2008 law will have been repealed thereby and the cited companies will be in compliance with the new law.”


About the Plastics Environmental Council

The PEC is a consortium of businesses, independent scientists and academics, engineers, landfill and compost operators, and environmental groups. Our goal is to assist our members in promoting the efficacy of state-of-the-market technology to facilitate the biodegradation of conventional petroleum-derived plastics in landfills and related disposal environments. For more information, please visit: http://pec-us.org/.

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