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Accepted Paper:

A better alternative? Justifying the rise and fall of oxo-degradable plastics  
Artemis Papadaki-Anastasopoulou (University of Vienna) Ulrike Felt (University of Vienna)

Paper short abstract:

We follow the EU regulation of oxo-degradable plastics and the justifications of their restriction in the EU market. We attend to how oxo-degradable plastics were imagined as a ‘better alternative’ to conventional plastics and how they failed to get established as such.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper we follow plastics as they become political, not through their everyday use, but through the regulation of plastics in the EU. We use an interpretative and ethnographic approach to policy (Shore, Wright & Pero, 2011) to unpack the moments and frictions where the material and the social are co-constructed and negotiated. In this contribution, we follow oxo-degradable plastics as materials informed by their socio-technical environment (Bensaude-Vincent & Stengers, 1996). Oxo-degradable plastics are made by adding certain chemicals into conventional plastics that promote the oxidation of the material. They have been widely used especially in the production of plastic bags. However, since the EU lightweight plastic carrier bag directive in 2015 the potential environmental harm of these plastics and whether they should be restricted were heavily debated. In 2019, together with the single-use plastics directive which regulates certain plastic products, the use of oxo-degradable plastics was banned in the EU. The restriction of oxo-degradable plastics is mainly based on the argument that they don’t “properly biodegrade” in a “reasonable timeframe” and “fail to deliver a proven environmental benefit”. We unpack how these justifications made oxo-degradable plastics an object of regulation and restriction. We show how regulatory argumentations in the end undermine the assemblage and stabilization of the imaginary of a ‘better alternative’ to conventional plastics and create new valuation and responsibility networks. Considering the promise of new biodegradable plastic materials, and their regulation, investigating these discussions become ever more relevant.

Panel Evid03b
Intractable plastic: responsibilities in ‘plasticized’ worlds II
  Session 1 Thursday 1 April, 2021, -