85 per cent of Brits believe food packaging should be compostable

85 per cent of Brits believe that food packaging should be compostable, with two thirds of those asked agreeing that the food industry should lead the move towards compostable packaging, according to the results of a new Populus poll released today (8 July).

Commissioned by compostable flexible packaging company TIPA, the poll of 2,104 UK consumers sheds new light on how the UK’s relationship with plastic has changed during the country’s lockdown.

It comes in response to concerns about the increased usage of plastic packaging during the Covid-19 pandemic, which sparked debate as to whether single-use plastics are more hygienic to use in this time. In the Populus survey, 67 per cent of respondents expressed concerns over increased levels of plastic waste during lockdown.

When asked who out of consumers, government or the food industry should take responsibility for reducing the use of plastic packaging, 69 per cent of respondents said the food industry should take the lead.

The poll yielded a positive picture of the public’s perception of compostables, with 85 per cent agreeing that compostables should replace plastic food packaging, and 58 per cent willing to pay more for it.

David Newman, Managing Director of the Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association (BBIA), said: “We know the UK is heavily polluting its food systems with microplastics, and compostables can help stop this. We have a huge composting industry in the UK capable of treating these materials and already doing so in many places.

“Ministers should urgently recognise the role of compostable packaging in reducing non-recyclable plastic waste, by encouraging collection of compostable packaging with food so that materials like film can be safely and effectively composted.”

It appears that momentum behind compostable packaging is growing, with efforts being made earlier this year by MPs and industry experts to include ambitious targets for compostables in the Environment Bill. Meanwhile, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has sought to address confusion surrounding compostables and published guidance to provide clarity over their use.

However, the introduction of the UK Government’s Plastic Packaging Tax, which imposes a charge of £200 per tonne of plastic that contains less than 30 per cent recycled content, and aims to incentivise investment in recycling infrastructure and uptake of recycled plastics, has posed difficulties for compostable plastics.

The issue lies in the fact that compostable packaging neither contains nor aims to contain recycled content, as the packaging is intended to return to the earth through composting, rather than to the material stream through recycling. Based on this, compostable packaging would not be classified as recycled (or recyclable) content. 

Daphna Nissenbaum, CEO and co-founder of TIPA, spoke about the impact of the tax: “While conventional plastics continue to endanger our oceans, wildlife, natural areas, and our health, compostable packaging can fully degrade and return to the earth safely. Despite crucial differences in the materials, compostables continue to be treated the same way as conventional plastic by UK legislation. A Plastics Tax which makes no distinction between the two will have a perverse effect, actively undermining efforts to shift toward compostable materials.

“The tax and the coming Environment Bill are both prime opportunities to support innovative, environmentally-friendly materials, but at the moment the UK Government is missing the boat. Now is the time for decision-makers to show leadership, and encourage compostable packaging for the sake of the natural environment.”

Italy has provided an example to the UK of how compostable packaging can be treated differently to regular plastic packaging after it introduced an extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme for compostable packaging, which would see producers of such packaging contribute financially to an EPR scheme dedicated to expanding infrastructure for dealing with compostables.