Biodegradable plastics could actually INCREASE sea pollution because they are dumped in rubbish tips where they don't break down, MPs warn

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  • Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee warn of ‘eco-friendly’ materials
  • Specifically, they advise against plastic bottles and compostable shopping bags 
  • Experts say UK lacks infrastructure to ensure these are disposed of properly

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is urging the government to conduct a review of reusable and refillable packaging systems

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is urging the government to conduct a review of reusable and refillable packaging systems

The committee called for 'a modulated plastic packaging tax', with lower fees for higher levels of recycled content, and said imported, filled packaging should not be exempt from the tax as this could damage UK manufacturing

The committee called for ‘a modulated plastic packaging tax’, with lower fees for higher levels of recycled content, and said imported, filled packaging should not be exempt from the tax as this could damage UK manufacturing

Most plastic never gets recycled at all, often ending up in landfill or incineration depots instead. Supermarkets are packed to the gills with plastic so I did my weekly shops at a farmers' market - something that may seem old-fashioned to ‘millenials’

Most plastic never gets recycled at all, often ending up in landfill or incineration depots instead. Around 700,000 plastic bottles a day end up as litter

Biodegradable plastics may inadvertently increase pollution because they don’t erode naturally. 

That’s the warning from environmental NGOs, who say the UK doesn’t have the infrastructure to ensure ‘eco-friendly’ items are disposed of properly.  

They believe consumers are discarding biodegradable water bottles and shopping bags in bins, assuming they break down of their own accord.

In reality, they often need to be sent to industrial composting facilities, but languish in landfill sites instead.

As a result, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is urging the government to conduct a review of reusable and refillable packaging systems. 

Sarah Greenwood, University of Sheffield, explained that ‘there is a perception with compostable packaging that it turns into compost, but it does not’. It turns into ‘carbon dioxide, water or methane’ with ‘a tiny amount of biomass left behind.’ She likened the process to “a very, very slow version of burning it”.

Juliet Phillips, from the Environmental Investigation Agency, stated that ‘if a biodegradable cup gets into the sea, it could pose just as much of a problem to marine life as a conventional plastic cup.’

Meanwhile, Green Alliance was concerned about evidence that ‘people are more likely to discard material described as ‘biodegradable’ in the environment, which would make pollution on land and at sea even worse’. 

Committee chairman Neil Parish said: ‘We all know that plastic pollution of our rivers and seas is a huge problem.  

‘My committee is also concerned that compostable plastics have been introduced without the right infrastructure or consumer understanding about how to dispose of them. 

‘Fundamentally, substitution is not the answer, and we need to look at ways to cut down on single-use packaging.

‘Currently, packaging labelling can be confusing, unclear, or even misleading. Ensuring that all local authorities collect the same plastics for recycling will make it easier for packaging to be labelled, so consumers know whether that packaging is recyclable or not.’ 

A number of experts from various organisations gave evidence to the committee in London’s Westminster, earlier this year, in advance of today’s report. 

Juliet Phillips, from the Environmental Investigation Agency, stated that ‘if a biodegradable cup gets into the sea, it could pose just as much of a problem to marine life as a conventional plastic cup.’ 

Meanwhile, Sarah Greenwood, from the University of Sheffield, explained that ‘there is a perception with compostable packaging that it turns into compost, but it does not’. 

It turns into ‘carbon dioxide, water or methane’ with ‘a tiny amount of biomass left behind.’ She likened the process to ‘a very, very slow version of burning it’. 

The Committee, which looked specifically at food and drink packaging, has recommended the Government should lead by example, removing single use packaging from all its catering facilities.

It also supported proposals to improve the recycling rate with extended producer responsibility, a Deposit Return Scheme and consistency in recycling collections.

Similarly, they’ve called for ‘a modulated plastic packaging tax’, with lower fees for higher levels of recycled content.

And they said imported, filled packaging should not be exempt from the tax as this could damage UK manufacturing.

A spokesperson for Keep Britain Tidy told The Guardian: ‘The drive to introduce bioplastics, biodegradable plastics and compostable plastics is being done with limited emphasis on explaining the purpose of these materials to the public or consideration of whether they are in fact better from an environmental perspective than the plastic packaging they replace.’ 

Every day, millions of us drop a plastic bottle or cardboard container into the recycling bin – and we feel we’re doing our bit for the environment.

But what we may not realise is that most plastic never gets recycled at all, often ending up in landfill or incineration depots instead.

Of 30 billion plastic bottles used by UK households each year, only 57 per cent are currently recycled, with half going to landfill, half go to waste.

Around 700,000 plastic bottles a day end up as litter.

This is largely due to plastic wrapping around bottles that are non-recyclable. 

Every year, the UK throws away 2.5 billion ‘paper’ cups, amounting to 5,000 cups a minute. 

Shockingly, less than 0.4 per cent of these are recycled.

Most cups are made from cardboard with a thin layer of plastic. 

This lining keeps your coffee warm and stops the cardboard going soggy, but also makes the cup almost impossible to recycle.  



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