The APL Blog

Degradable Bags Damage Plastics Recycling

Degradable bags ruin plastics recycling and will be exempt from the 2015 tax
A couple of weeks ago the Co-op started using lightweight compostable carrier bags across 81 local authorities where food recycling requires a compostable bag. This move was praised by some as a step forward for reusable plastic, but Plastics and Rubber Weekly have recently exposed how biodegradable carrier bags could contaminate recycling streams.


‘Green’ Bags

When it comes to ‘green’ plastic carrier bags there are 2 main types that will be exempt from the 5p tax due in 2015: oxo-biodegradable and biodegradable.


Biodegradable plastic: This type of plastic is broken down by microorganisms like bacteria and fungi.

Oxo-biodegradable plastic: Similar to biodegradable plastic but the degradation happens in 2 stages. First of all the plastic reacts to oxygen and splits into molecular fragments. After this a normal biodegradable breakdown takes place.

While these polymers may sound impressive, recycling them with regular plastics could have devastating results.


Recycling Streams

Just as glass and paper are separated when people recycle, it’s also important that plastic is reused properly. Mixing biodegradable and regular plastic can seriously damage the quality of reprocessed goods, and it doesn’t take a lot of contamination to see the results.

President of Plastics Recyclers Europe, Ton Emans, told PRW that even a ‘1% or 2%’ presence of biodegradable plastic could have a negative impact on the quality of the film he makes. Manufacturing industries need their products to be reliable and predictable, a reduction of quality could ruin a brand’s image and sales.


Disposal Problem

‘Green’ plastics aren’t just a nightmare for businesses, they pose a problem for local councils. While the Co-op has targeted areas where compostable bags can be used, generally speaking there is not a suitable recycling bin for degradable bags. They do not belong in recycling bins and creating a specialist bin for oxo-biodegradables would be an inefficient solution.

If there is not an end-of-life solution for a product such as biodegradable plastic there is no point using them in the first place.

To ensure the growth of the recycling sector, quality has to be guaranteed. Excusing biodegradable bags from the 5p tax in 2015 appears to many as a knee-jerk reaction which is inconsistent with the government’s other recycling aims. Industry experts are keen to highlight that excluding plastic bags containing recycled content from the tax would be a more intelligent move.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments, this is a topic we are very passionate about!

Until next time,

Dominic
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