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Standards for biodegradable, compostable and bio-based plastics: call for evidence

The government's Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs issued, on 22nd July, their Call for Evidence on Standards for Bio-based, Biodegradable and Compostable Plastics.  

The United Nations has predicted that plastic production will account for 20% of all the world's total oil consumption by 2050 if we continue to produce at current levels.  As part of the government's response, the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Wave 3 includes a £60m challenge on smart, sustainable plastics which will develop new forms of plastic and consumer-friendly packaging formats in order to help reduce waste and address other environmental impacts. Innovative solutions to this issue bring with them the potential for growth and jobs in sectors that can help provide solutions. 

In brief, this call seeks evidence from scientists, manufacturers and the research community, on the sustainability and wider impacts of biodegradable, compostable, and bio-based plastics and asks whether new and improved standards and labelling for these materials would be valuable.

At this stage there are no proposals (for specific smarter, sustainable plastics) on which the government is seeking comments. They are working with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and industry to seek evidence on the demand, benefits and implications of standards for bio-based and biodegradable (including compostable) plastics.  

Government is seeking evidence that identifies gaps and provides expert advice on:
  1. the overall sustainability of bio-based and biodegradable plastic products in comparison with those made from other materials. This could include all aspects of a product's life-cycle and will help in assessing whether technical standards or other related options are suitable mechanisms to add value for such products;
  2. existing relevant plastic degradation standards and how, or if, they might be promoted without any adverse effects on the environment and disposal routes; and
  3. the design and implementation of standards for biodegradable plastics to ensure that they fully biodegrade in a reasonable time-frame in specified environments.

Government is looking for robust evidence backed by scientific theory, direct practical experience, or analysis, rather than opinion. This could include reference to relevant case studies, trials, academic literature or published statistics, as well as an indication of the level of consensus amongst experts working on this topic.

The call for evidence document's section 7 asks about impacts on waste processing.  Questions 26, 28, 29 and 30 are particularly relevant to REA's members who collect and/or sort wastes and/or who compost or anaerobially digest biodegradable wastes (including compostable plastics and, in the case of questions 28 and 29, plastics which may biodegrade in environments which are not industrial scale composting or home composting).  

The government's deadline for responses is 11:45 pm on 14th October 2019.  After this date government will consider the evidence and aims to publish its response  within 12 weeks.  The evidence will inform the government's next steps in this area.

The REA would like to submit evidence on behalf of the organics recycling industry (composters, AD system operators and those in the biodegradable waste supply chain) so calls on its members to send their evidence to Emily Nichols (emily@r-e-a.net). Members are welcome to contact Emily to discuss issues and potential relevance of evidence they may have.

Webpage published: 23/07/2019  
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