The British Plastic Federation (BPF) says that the Government’s decision to press ahead with plans for an exemption to the single use carrier bag levy for biodegradable plastic bags will only act to “validate the throwaway society in which we now live”, prompting the Oxo-Biodegradable Plastics Association (OPA) to accuse it of “scaremongering”.
The Government granted an exemption for biodegradable bags from the 5p carrier-bag charge due to take effect in England on 5 October 2015. It will now be decided what type of biodegradable plastic would qualify for the exemption.
The BPF says this sends a mixed message and may lead to a rise in littering. The exemption also puts many jobs within the plastics recycling sector in jeopardy, as confidence in the quality of recyclates will be undermined.
British Plastics Federation Recycling Group chairman, Roger Baynham said: “Such a move would not only be contrary to the recommendations of the Government’s own Environmental Audit Committee but is also opposed by virtually all organisations in the plastics sector, including material suppliers, packaging manufacturers and plastics recyclers”
“Over the last three years, the UK has seen the emergence of significant infrastructure to support plastics recycling. This is at a critical stage where it is necessary for these investments to demonstrate profitable growth and to meet the needs of higher overall recycling targets.
Jacob Hayler, ESA – “Unless we can be sure that such bags will not end up in the plastics recycling route, which is very difficult indeed, the bags will undermine confidence in recycled plastics, but also risk getting stuck in sorting equipment at MRFs in the same way as plastic bags”
“This policy exemption could undermine these businesses due to the potential for contamination,” he added.
Baynham outlines his fears commenting that, “there is already evidence that recycled plastic is being replaced by virgin polymer in certain applications because of the fear that biodegradable content could undermine the integrity of products made using recycled polymers.”
Philip Law, director general of the BPF, speaking on behalf of the wider industry grouping Plastics2020 added: “The proposed exemption would be discriminatory and would only serve to distort the market and promote littering”.
“The prospect of developing a whole industry in the UK making a type of bag favoured by legislation is misconceived. The UK Plastics Industry is trending upwards into higher technology products in the response to global economic opportunities and pressures. We want support for manufacturing high value added products.”
Law urges caution, warning that, “All this will spell a loss of jobs in what has been a potentially thriving plastics recycling sector and put paid to further progress in meeting Government’s ambitious recycling targets.”
Segregation And Collection
In addition, Law cautions that segregation and collection would be very difficult indeed, as to the average user, bags made from conventional plastics and degradable materials appear very similar.
“Moves to promote degradable materials as an answer to littering could in fact create a perverse situation whereby irresponsible behaviour is justified as consumers will believe that the material will simply disintegrate after use,” he added.
Jacob Hayler, executive director at the Environmental Services Association commented on the news, saying: “ESA supports Plastics 2020 in calling for no exemption for biodegradable bags.
“Unless we can be sure that such bags will not end up in the plastics recycling route, which is very difficult indeed, the bags will undermine confidence in recycled plastics, but also risk getting stuck in sorting equipment at MRFs in the same way as plastic bags. A simple system that encourages reusable bags, and ideally also recycled content, would be much better.”
The BPF says that the Government needs to “think twice while there is still time”, about offering the possibility of an exemption.
“It’s not just a question of technical feasibility – there’s a lot more in the balance, not least the future of plastics recycling in the UK,” it says.
In contrast, the OPA says the Government is right to grant an exemption for biodegradable bags and has accused the BPF and recyclers of “scaremongering”.
“The BPF and the recyclers know or ought to know that the characteristics of the different types of biodegradable plastic are not the same,” it says. “Some are compatible with recycling and some are not.”
It says there is “no doubt” that bio-based plastics marketed as “compostable” are not compatible with recycling, and should not therefore qualify for the exemption.
OPA – “Defra has found no evidence that biodegradability encourages littering. The fact is that there will always be people who dispose irresponsibly of their waste, and that type of person does not care whether it is biodegradable or not”
It says: “Scientific evidence has been produced to Defra that oxo-biodegradable plastic can be recycled without the need for segregation, but the recyclers have produced only scare stories with no scientific basis.”
Defra accepts that oxo-biodegradable plastic does degrade and biodegrade, but is unsure of the time that the second (biotic) phase will take. This may be relevant for special applications like mulch-film, but not for carrier bags, the OPA says.
“Defra has found no evidence that biodegradability encourages littering,” it says. “The fact is that there will always be people who dispose irresponsibly of their waste, and that type of person does not care whether it is biodegradable or not.”
The government has recognised that for the foreseeable future it is impossible to collect all the plastic waste and that some of it will get into the open environment, the OPA says. “It is for that reason that they wish to encourage the right type of biodegradable plastic by granting an exemption from the 5p charge.”