Further research is needed into biodegradability standards before biodegradable bags can be made exempt from the English carrier bag charge, according to a Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) review.
Under the Single Use Carrier Bags Charges (England) Order 2015, retailers with 250 or more employees are required to charge at least five pence for each single-use carrier bag, unless they are being used for carrying unpackaged food or sharp objects.
Paper bags were also exempted from the charge and as part of the order, and Defra was to complete a review of industry standards for biodegradability to determine whether biodegradable carrier bags warranted an exemption from the charge.
The report was due before the charge was introduced on 5 October this year, and has this week been released after a three-month delay.
However, the review has returned inconclusive results, stating: ‘There are a number of standards for plastic bag biodegradability. We will need to conduct further work before any of these could be used to exempt certain types of carrier bags on grounds of biodegradability.’
It states that the impact of the charge will be assessed after retailers have reported bag-use figures and proceeds from the charge in May 2016. Defra will ‘continue to consider the technical specification for a genuinely biodegradable bag, and will at that point further report on how an exemption for such a biodegradable bag can be implemented’.
Commenting on the report, BBIA Managing Director David Newman said:
“BBIA welcomes the report from Defra while believing that the mandate was, in the first place, not realistic. We knew full well that no plastic material exists that is able to biodegrade everywhere. Indeed such a material could be defined as a license to litter. Nevertheless, the report recognises that a standard exists to define biodegradation in a confined space and time and that it actually works quite well, the EN13432.
“What the report fails to recognise is the investment the biopolymer industry is making in producing materials that could biodegrade everywhere – this investment is on the back of a decade of producing materials that use less resources, produce less emissions and help reduce waste. I am certain that within a few years a material will be ready that can biodegrade in every environment and the biopolymer industry is leading the research in this important sector.”
The mandate given to DEFRA on this issue really was a ‘mission impossible’ – find the totally biodegradable bag that will biodegrade in any environment. We knew that such a material suitable for a carrier bag does not exist, although already both soil and marine compostable standards have been developed for some films.
Nevertheless a series of important announcements are made in their statement, notably that the EN13432 standard is a good starting point for the definition of a biodegradable bag.
BBIA will continue its dialogue with Defra on this issue to get across the message that the standard needs to be referred to as end of life – no standard can combat littering, only good waste management and education can stop this.