Defra avoiding ‘meaningful scientific discussion’ on compostables, says BBIA

The Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association (BBIA) has written to the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) challenging the stance it has currently adopted with compostable packaging.

Compostable bagDespite growth in demand for ‘organic recycling through composting and anaerobic digestion’, the Government’s response to the consultation on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) shows a disregard for compostables. The letter also claims that, ahead of an official response on the Consistency consultation, Minister Jo Churchill ‘stated to a fellow stakeholder that “we do not want compostable bags”’.

By determining compostable bags to be unsuitable for food waste collections in England, the letter says, Defra is seemingly stating that ‘we some small doubts about compostable films, despite clear evidence in their favour, we prefer not to have them. Instead, we’ll have plastic bags, which we have no doubt will leave macro and microplastics in compost, digestate, and, therefore, soils.’

In recent months, BBIA said, Defra has developed a ‘decidedly polemic view ​​regarding compostables and globally accepted standards for biodegradability’. Continuing, the association asserted that ‘rather than engage in meaningful scientific discussion’, the Department has ‘opted to move forward with a system for packaging and food waste which goes against the actual evidence, net-zero ambitions and desire of the market.’

In the letter, BBIA says it has been in ‘regular contact’ with Defra officials, seeking meetings with Minister Jo Churchill and offering her a visit to ‘the UK’s largest composting facility, which actively seeks more compostable packaging.’ However, the association claims that the apparent lack of engagement is ‘undemocratic’.

The letter concludes by inviting the Minister and the Department’s Chief Scientific Advisor to meet with the BBIA to discuss the risks posed by the current policy stance, including:

  • The contribution of compostable products (bags, packaging and other items such as teabags) to the future bioresources (waste) industry and UK PLC in the context of net-zero.
  • The underlying science and standards relating to biodegradation of (compostable plastic) materials and the false assumptions relating to microplastics.

The letter is accompanied by others from stakeholders in the compostables industry. In one of these, organics reprocessors ENVAR, questions the evidence behind the decision to label compostable packaging as ‘do not recycle’. This, ENVAR asserts, will damage producers of compostable packaging and ‘raise doubts’ among the company’s compost customers.

Keenan Recycling also issued a letter to Defra on compostable packaging’s exclusion from recycling labels, stating that the Department’s position that compost may contain microplastics ‘could really set the industry back’, damaging the trust the company has built with farmers and agricultural groups.

The letter called on Defra to explain its grounds for this claim, adding that ‘if there is an absence of such evidence’, it would ‘appreciate the ability to continue to collect and process compostable packaging along with food waste’.