Compostable and biodegradable packaging should be put in the bin because there is little evidence it is good for compost and it can contaminate recycling, the Government has said.
“Do not recycle” labels must be added to all compostable and biodegradable packaging, under new rules to be introduced by the Government, which said such products should be thrown in the bin.
The new rules signal a change in policy from the Government, which as recently as last year said it wanted all packaging to be “recyclable, reusable or compostable” by 2025.
Recycling is contaminated if it includes compostable or biodegradable packaging, which cannot be turned into new materials.
Even when properly broken down in industrial composting facilities, there is insufficient evidence that compostable packaging provides “ecological or agricultural benefits to soils or digestate” when it is turned into compost, the Government has said.
“Until the infrastructure and evidence base can be improved, compostable and biodegradable packaging must have the ‘do not recycle’ label applied,” it said.
Little evidence of ‘benefit to soil and land’
It recommended that such products be thrown in the bin, and said it would only change its advice if there is further evidence compostable products add “benefit to soils and land”.
The change is included in the Government’s consultation on making packaging producers pay for tackling waste and comes ahead of the introduction of a new plastic tax on Friday, which will penalise companies that use products with less than 30 per cent recycled material.
Compostable and biodegradable coffee machine pods, takeaway containers and delivery packaging have grown in popularity in recent years, as companies respond to consumer concerns over the impact of single use plastics.
But experts warn of greenwashing, and say the labelling of plastics as compostable or biodegradable can lead to unintentional littering because people believe they will fully disintegrate if they are thrown out.
Many biodegradable products do not break down fully when left in the open air and leave microplastic residue.
Compostable packaging is designed to break down in specific circumstances and most do not break down in home composting facilities.
They can be broken down in industrial facilities via food and garden waste, but not all councils have access, and even when they are turned into compost, there is little evidence that they add nutrients to the final products.
Brands should ‘carefully consider’ using this packaging
Meanwhile, around half of councils send their green waste to anaerobic digestion, where it is processed and turned into biogas and fertiliser, and which cannot process the plastic.
“Compostable packaging materials are not widely targeted, collected or processed as part of normal council waste services in the UK because many of these types of packaging don’t perform as advertised when treated in real-world conditions at industrial composting facilities,” said Jacob Hayler, the executive director of the Environmental Services Association, which represents the waste industry.
“In many cases, packaging and other objects are screened out before householders’ garden and food waste is sent for composting anyway and are treated as general rubbish.”
He added: “Brands should carefully consider any introduction of compostable or biodegradable packaging to the market in the context of the UK’s waste management infrastructure which, at present, is largely not able to put these materials to good use.”