Chairman’s Introduction to BBIA
At the time of writing (July 2020) BBIA celebrates its fifth anniversary. This milestone comes with mixed feelings – how much we have achieved and how much more there is to do to progress towards a consolidated bioeconomy in the UK.
General elections, Brexit and COVID-19, have caused unimaginable disruption to the functioning of government and I want to give credit to our excellent civil servants who we talk to regularly, for their efforts in maintaining focus on their policy domains. That the annual climate change conference scheduled for November 2020 and has been cancelled and put back a year gives you a sign of the gravity of the crisis the government is having to deal with.
In July 2015 we established several benchmarks as a sign of progress. The principle goal was to ensure food waste is collected and treated properly across the UK. Why? For climate change reasons, treating our food waste is an imperative, but also as a feedstock for bioeconomy activities and, as a driver for the collection and treatment of compostable materials used in food applications, food waste collections are essential.
I was therefore pleased that in 2019 Defra announced that food waste collections would be mandated across England in line with the other devolved nations by the end of 2023. This is a great step forward and I thank those who joined BBIA’s Food Waste Alliance to lobby for this in 2018. This showed to me that collective, cooperative actions are needed to drive progressive change.
The debate around the use of compostable materials has driven most of our work. In 2020 we have seen our market double since 2017 to around 20,000 tonnes of compostable films and packaging – still a tiny volume but with rapid growth. Brands and consumers realise now that recycling plastic films is expensive and extremely difficult and are turning to compostables increasingly as a solution to producing less plastic waste and ensuring food waste is collected without plastic contamination. Indeed, we are seeing massive amounts of plastic waste going through the food waste treatment plants and leaking through to soil and into our food chain. This has to stop and compostables are part of that solution.
In February 2020 for the first time WRAP published guidelines for the use of compostable packing in the UK. We helped draw these up and they give the first indicators, with current infrastructure, of how compostables are suitable for several applications. As collections of compostables develop across the UK so will the applications for which they are suitable.
In this year we are engaging with all the government departments on the future of investments into the UK in the bioeconomy and the threats there are to stopping a nascent and growing sector. One is the unreasonable application of a plastic tax to materials fundamentally different to plastics. Another is the lack of market pulls and market certainty with products being sold that are not compostable but generically nominated biodegradable, causing confusion among consumers, brands and waste industries. And, of course, we are working on the labelling of our products to ensure they can be distinguished by all for their end of life qualities, through organic recycling in composting and AD.
Other policy objectives include: improving the quality of our soils and our waterways, where biodegradable products like bio-lubricants can enhance quality and safety; implementing policies to reduce contamination to soil from PE film mulch by introducing biodegradable mulch films; reducing greenhouse gas emissions by using renewable feedstocks to replace fossil fuels in the production of everyday, consumer materials.
On the webpage here dedicated to Policy and Reports, you can find a library of information on our industry and our members’ activities including the public consultations to which BBIA has responded.
We hope you share some of these policy objectives with us and join our campaigning for a greener and more bio-focused Britain.