BBIA calls on Tesco to change compostables strategy

The Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association (BBIA) has called on Tesco to reconsider its approach to compostables after the supermarket chain updated its guidelines to include all compostable materials in its list of packaging that should not be used by suppliers.

An image of Vegware compostable products
Vegware produces compostable packaging

Last month, Tesco updated its ‘preferred material list’ in a bid to simplify recycling, moving compostable and biodegradable materials into the ‘Red’ category to indicate that the material should not be used as ‘customers cannot easily recycle’.

BBIA has criticised this move, explaining that compostable packaging is included in the aims of the UK Plastics Pact – to which Tesco is a signatory – which commits businesses to ensuring that all plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

BBIA has also pointed to the Waste and Resources Action Programme’s (WRAP) recent guidance on compostables, which highlights certain uses where conventional plastics are not suitable, including teabags, coffee pods and food caddy liners.

The guidance aims to address confusion around compostables by helping businesses identify where they can use compostable packaging appropriately, based on the available infrastructure.

BBIA Managing Director David Newman commented: “Whilst we understand Tesco’s desire to simplify what is a complex, international supply chain, we respectfully disagree with its choice.”

In particular, Newman called for plastic film to be replaced with a compostable alternative, explaining that many compostable films can be composted at home: “It is obvious to any observer of the waste infrastructure in the UK and across the globe that almost all plastic films are currently not being collected for recycling nor effectively recycled. In fact, less than five per cent of plastic films in the UK are sent for recycling with an ambition in the Plastics Pact to raise this to just seven per cent by 2022.

“Compostable films, therefore, are in exactly the same position as these materials relative to consumer choices: when a consumer takes them home and disposes of them their choices are still going to be limited. The difference is that many compostable films can be easily home composted, while the 52 industrial composting plants in the UK will also accept them if they are collected and sent to these for treatment."

Compostable packaging is proving increasingly popular amid rising public concern over the impacts of plastic pollution – according to a recent study from University College London, 84 per cent of consumers would prefer to purchase products in compostable packaging as opposed to conventional plastic.

Although compostables require specific infrastructure, for example in-vessel composting (IVC), the UK Government has shown commitment to boosting the industry, launching a £60-million investment in July to drive innovation, alongside a call for evidence on standards for bio-based and biodegradable plastics. A group of politicians and industry experts recently called for further investment in compostables in a letter to the Guardian.

Newman continued: “The development of the collection and treatment infrastructure is an issue that concerns the whole supply chain, from producers and waste management operators through to consumers and retailers.

“We call upon Tesco to work within the Plastics Pact and with the BBIA to help develop the collection infrastructure for compostables, which will mature as food/garden waste collections become obligatory across the UK in 2023.”

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