Defra – look again at bag charges

The government has today confirmed that when the 5p plastic bag charge scheme commences in October 2015 there will be no exemption for biodegradable plastic bags.

In its response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s report on the charge scheme earlier this year, the Government says that while it still believes biodegradable plastic bags will be needed in future, it acknowledges that it is “not aware that such a plastic bag currently exists” and it would “represent a challenge to UK industry to produce a genuinely biodegradable plastic bag that meets defined criteria”. The Government conclude that a biodegradable bag exemption: “will not be included in the legislation until standards for the bags have been finalised … the exemption will not come into effect with the legislation for the 5p charge in October 2015.”

The government has suggested the need for biodegradable bag standards because it believes there will ‘always be a need for some form of bag, for example for impulse buys’. Defra’s response states: “We expect to see a significant reduction in the distribution of single-use plastics bags once the charge is introduced, with a significant proportion of the remaining single-use plastic bag use moving to biodegradable bags once the standard is finalised and suitable bags reach the market.”

Wells Plastics has been manufacturing additives for the plastics industry in the UK for 30 years and say that such a bag already exists in the form of an oxo-biodegradable bag since this is designed specifically to address the issue of plastic bags that end up in the open environment. We therefore would like to ask Defra to give further consideration to what constitutes the IDEAL BAG and look again very closely at how an oxo-biodegradable bag can meet these criteria.

Some opponents of the exemption for biodegradable bags also have said that it is not possible to recycle such bags alongside standard plastic bags and therefore promoting their use could undermine the recycling of plastic films.

Defra’s response today states that it is ‘well aware of the concerns regarding contamination of the recycling stream with biodegradable plastics’.

Wells Plastics response to this is that oxo-biodegradable plastic bags can be recycled in the normal manner without any need to be separated and that there is evidence to support this. Wells Plastics are aware that some recyclers have shown concern about oxo-biodegradable plastic bags entering the recycling stream and therefore believe that it would be beneficial for both recyclers and Wells Plastics to take part in a joint study, which they have proposed to representatives of the industry.

Wells Sales & Marketing Director Carl Birch says

“we think that it would be good for all parties to have publically available, credible scientific evidence in which recyclers could agree is definitive, in order to finally settle the differing views about this matter. Unfortunately, the recycling industry has so far declined to take up our proposal which is disappointing”.