“It’s great that this strategy has some teeth. It is great that they are linking this to the bio-economy strategy and the industrial strategy to help the transition to the circular economy.”
The UK government has acknowledged that the bio-based industry is a growing sector and that innovative new packaging types could help reduce the environmental impact of plastic in its new waste strategy, which was launched today. In order to make it easy for people to do this, the government wants to introduce new standards for bio-based and biodegradable plastics. In 2019, it will launch a call for evidence to help with the process. Essentially, industry stakeholders will be asked for their views in order to examine the demand for bio-based and biodegradable plastics and its benefits and challenges.
The main overall aim of the government’s waste strategy is to help England move towards a circular economy. The document also analyses the issues surrounding biodegradable plastics, oxo-degradable plastics, and bio-based plastics.
In the strategy, the government stated that it was concerned that the biodegradability of plastic-based products could not be verified “in the absence of standards”. Therefore, “our call for evidence will explore how this can be rectified, and we are providing support for research and development of biodegradable plastics through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund”. The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund aims to bring together the UK’s world-leading research with business to tackle major industrial and societal challenges.
The government also expresses concern over the use of oxo-degradable plastics, stating that international studies have “concluded that there is currently insufficient evidence to support claims that oxo-degradable plastics will fully biodegrade, or do so within a reasonable timeframe if they are littered, if they are disposed of in landfill, or if they end up in the marine environment”.
According to the strategy, in theory, almost all materials ultimately may biodegrade, even in the open environment, though only after hundreds of years or more. There is currently no consensus as to how quickly a plastic should biodegrade to be considered biodegradable, the document highlighted.
In relation to bio-based plastics, the government said the material has the potential to provide a more sustainable alternative to conventional plastics. Yet, it acknowledged that it was an emerging market and that the material was “generally more expensive than conventional plastics”
The government expressed the need for further research to “evaluate their overall sustainability – for example, whether they will be more sustainable if manufactured from plant waste rather than from plants that would otherwise have been used for food production”.
Dr Sarah Hickingbottom, CEO of bio-economy specialist BioVale (@BioVale_Cluster), welcomed the government’s waste strategy. Speaking to Bio-Based World News, she said: “We think that it’s great that the UK government is doing this. It is great that they are linking this to the bio-economy strategy and the industrial strategy to help the transition to the circular economy.
“It’s great that this strategy has some teeth.”
Speaking about the issue of biodegradability, she said: “Like a lot of things in life, nothing is ever simple. Degradability is like lifecycle analysis, it is complicated. It depends on many things like temperature, sunlight, pressure, and even the bacteria that are around at the time. These issues all affect degradability. It’s good that the government are calling for evidence on this topic.”
Separately, retailers and producers of packaging will be forced to pay the full cost of collecting and recycling it under the government’s new waste strategy.
Supermarkets and other retailers could be charged penalties for putting difficult to recycle packaging – such as black plastic trays – on the market as part of the strategy, which aims to make the “polluter pay”. They would be charged lower fees for packaging that was easy to reuse or recycle.
The government also reiterated its plans to stimulate demand for recycled plastic by introducing a tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled plastic content. It aims to unveil this tax in April 2022.
Commenting on the strategy, Environment Secretary Michael Gove (@michaelgove) said: “Our strategy sets out how we will go further and faster, to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Together we can move away from being a ‘throw-away’ society, to one that looks at waste as a valuable resource.
“We will cut our reliance on single-use plastics, end confusion over household recycling, tackle the problem of packaging by making polluters pay, and end the economic, environmental and moral scandal that is food waste.
“Through this plan we will cement our place as a world leader in resource efficiency, leaving our environment in a better state than we inherited it.”