In April 2021, the Government of the United Kingdom released a summary of their public consultation regarding the potential contribution of bio-based and biodegradable plastics to a more circular economy.

Bio-based, biodegradable, and compostable plastics are seen and widely discussed as part of the solution to achieve a circular plastics economy. However, many knowledge gaps remain, for example, regarding the overall environmental impacts of bio-based and biodegradable plastic products in comparison with those made from other materials and issues with existing and development of plastic degradation standards.

From July 22 to October 24, 2019, the British Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Energy and Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs published a call for public consultation on these aspects.

The responses received regarding biobased plastics were mixed, with stakeholders agreeing that such materials may have a lower carbon footprint compared to conventional plastics, however, some commented their production could have potential negative impacts on both land use and the existing waste management systems. The participating stakeholders also agreed that biodegradable and compostable plastics are a valuable option to replace plastics that would normally be too contaminated by organic food residues for the conventional plastic recycling streams, such as coffee capsules.

The stakeholders were found to have critically viewed assumptions and marketing of biodegradability of plastics in the open environment. Concerns were raised that such claims could “encourage littering if citizens consider them to be in some way environmentally friendly.” These comments are in line with a recent report issued by the European Commission on biodegradable plastics in the open environment that also found that the application of biodegradable plastics should be limited to specific uses (FPF reported).

The authors of the report stated: “In accordance with the waste hierarchy, our current preference remains that most plastics are reusable or recyclable. We recognize though that in some applications and specific circumstances biodegradable/compostable plastics may be more suitable. We recommend that businesses consult available guidance and evidence summaries on these plastics when considering using them to help assess if this the case.”

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Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (April 2021). “Bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics.

Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (April 2021). “Standards for bio-based, biodegradable, and compostable plastics Summary of responses to the call for evidence and Government Response.”