MPs and industry call for investment in compostables

A group of cross-party MPs and Peers has joined industry experts in signing a letter published in the Guardian yesterday (28 January) calling on the government to include ambitious targets for compostables in the Environment Bill, which is expected to be reintroduced to Parliament in the coming weeks.

Backing a move away from conventional plastics, the letter describes compostables as a ‘smart solution’ for the problems with recycling plastic packaging. Mandatory separate food waste collections from 2023 and potential free garden waste collections mean that the collection of compostable packaging could be made far easier, with the letter stating that ‘with sufficient education and the right waste management infrastructure, compostable materials could replace a useful proportion of the non-recyclable conventional flexible plastic’.

A compostable carrier bag.The letter highlights that whilst film and flexible packaging amounts to around 400,000 tonnes of plastic used in the UK, comprising 25 per cent of all plastic packaging, only four per cent is currently recycled, due to difficulties with collection and processing, especially due to food waste contamination.

Signatories include Chair of the Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association, Andy Sweetman, and Technical Director of the Renewable Energy Association, Jeremy Jacobs, as well as leading academics including Professor James Elliot from the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy at the University of Cambridge.

Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse, Labour MP Preet Gill, Conservative MP Matthew Offord and Green Party Peer Jenny Jones have also signed the letter.

Daphna Nissenbaum, CEO and co-founder of compostable packaging producer TIPA said: “We all have been under the impression that every piece of plastic can be recycled, and a massive effort has been made toward higher recycling rates. However, we now understand that recycling cannot accommodate all packaging. We must invest in a variety of solutions including composting, reusing, new materials and recycling.

“In three years’ time, the UK will have the ability to collect compostable packaging along with organic waste across the nation. With adequate education and infrastructure changes, compostables could replace a large amount of the non-recyclable conventional flexible plastic that is currently being used, the vast majority of which ends up in landfill and our oceans.

“To achieve this, the government must support ambitious targets to move away from conventional plastics towards compostable solutions.”

Commenting on Twitter, Labour MP Preet Gill said: “Pleased to have joined academics and MPs in supporting a move from conventional plastics towards compostable solutions.

“Compostable packaging must play an integral role if we are to create a true circular economy and meet commitments on plastic packaging.”

The government has shown previous enthusiasm towards investing in bioplastics, launching a £60-million investment drive for the development of packaging made from plants, wood chippings and food waste in July. The industry is currently awaiting the outcome of the government’s consultation on standards for biodegradable and compostable packaging.

Whilst bioplastics may well have a critical role to play in the fight against plastic waste, Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee has called on the government to focus on reducing all single-use packaging, rather than switching to alternatives such as compostables, arguing that the required treatment infrastructure for such materials is currently lacking.

You can read the letter in full on the Guardian website.

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