Protection        en   : iponse         EPA/530-SW-90-017D
            Agency                33-3UL)                February 1990
            Office of Solid Waste
            Fact Sheet

            PLASTIC WASTES
      Discarded plastic products and packaging make up a
   growing proportion of municipal solid waste. By the year 2000,
   the amount of plastic we throw away will increase by 50 percent.
   Current volume estimates for plastic waste range from 14 to 21
   percent of the waste stream. By weight plastics contribute seven
   percent, and less than one percent of plastic waste is currently
   recycled.  Additionally, some plastic items end up as litter that
   poses ecological risk to the marine environment and aesthetic
   and economic loss. These facts have led to the exploration of
   degradable plastics as one possible solution.
Degradable Plastics Defined
Degradable plastics are engineered to be less resistant to degradation
than "normal" plastic. The following are currently the most prominent
technologies being investigated for consumer products and packaging:

     Photodegradation adds a sun-sensitive component that
     triggers physical disintegration when exposed to sunlight.

     Biodegradation adds a natural polymer such as corn starch or
     vegetable oil that degrades into smaller pieces of plastic when
     exposed to the appropriate environment.

Do Degradables Fit into Solid Waste Solutions?

      Reduction of Waste: Degradable plastics do NOT reduce the
      volume or toxicity of waste produced.  In fact, for certain
      applications, additional plastic may be required to offset the
      weakening effect of adding biodegradable components. The
      amount of waste may decrease once (and if) degradation occurs,
      but the amount of waste produced is the same.

      LandJUling:  Degradation in a landfill occurs very slowly.  Even
      cabbages and carrots have been found in recognizable form in
      landfills after many years of burial. Enhancing the degradability
      of plastics will have little if any effect on landfill operation or space.

      Recycling: Plastic recyclers fear that degradable plastics will
      contaminate the recycled plastic waste stream, resulting in
      products  that do not perform well. As we learn more about
      how degradable plastic bags work, however, they may prove
      useful in  collecting and composting yard waste.

      Incineration: Degradable plastics will have little, if any, effect on
      incineration. In most cases, the waste will be combusted before
      degradation begins.

If they perform appropriately, degradable plastics may help reduce risks
to wildlife and aesthetic damage from items such as six-pack beverage
rings, cups, and wrappers.  There is, however, some concern as to whether
smaller bits of plastic may pose a greater threat to wildlife. Additionally,
there is a question as to whether degradability might encourage littering.
EPA has  initiated a research effort to answer some of these questions.

Where Can I Find Additional Information?
Call EPA's RCRA/Superfurid Hotline for a free copy of the Executive
Summary of EPA's Report to Congress on Methods to Manage and Control
Plastic Waste (EPA/530-89-051 A). The toll-free number is 1-800-424-
9346, or TDD 1-800-553-7672 for the hearing impaired.  In Washington
D.C., the number is 382-3000 or TDD 475-9652. The Hotline is open
from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday. Ask the
Hotline for information on ordering the full report.
                                             Original Printing on Recycled Paper