Degradable Plastics:

Standards, Research and Development

RCED-88-208: Published: Sep 20, 1988. Publicly Released: Sep 20, 1988.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO studied federal government activities to encourage the research and development (R&D) of degradable plastics, to: (1) identify the extent of federal and private sector efforts to develop standards for degradable plastics; and (2) describe federal agencies' support of degradable plastics R&D.

GAO found that: (1) the federal government and the private sector conducted limited testing to support development of standards for degradable plastics; (2) testing remained necessary to resolve the degradation rate and end-product safety; (3) federal agencies with the capability to standardize or test new materials and products reported few or no activities involving degradable plastics; and (4) private-sector activities for developing standards for degradable plastics were too recent to evaluate. GAO also found that: (1) four federal agencies conducted or supported research related to plastics degradability and product development at a cost of $1.7 million; (2) most of the research was aimed at developing new nonfood, nonfuel uses for agricultural products, alternatives to nondegradable plastics for use at sea, and substitutes for petroleum-based plastics; and (3) although Congress and several state legislatures proposed legislation to promote or mandate the use of degradable plastics, the majority of the bills did not provide definitions, time frames, or end-product safety requirements.

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