A. Myth: Bioplastics contaminate mechanical recycling streams and there is no infrastructure to recycle bioplastics anyway
Fact: Compostable bio-plastics currently represent approximately 10,000 tonnes of UK sales. That compares to around 2 -3 million tonnes of plastics. Even in a country where bioplastics are used more widely, like Italy, no more than 100,000 tonnes of bioplastics are sold, compared to millions of tonnes of plastics. There is no evidence that bioplastics damage plastics recycling. Tests taken by the plastics recycling industry in Italy demonstrate a tolerance of between 5-10% for plastics to accept bioplastics without damage, but analyses show that current contamination levels are virtually zero.
Conversely, food and green waste, which accounts for over 5 million tonnes of UK recycling, is heavily and continuously contaminated by traditional plastics. The environmental damage, the reduction in yields and the devaluing of compost production this causes to organics recycling is massive. Just 5% contamination represents 250,000 tonnes of plastics that damage organics recycling annually in the UK. Compost/AD plants need to extract these plastics and send them to disposal at considerable cost.
Therefore, while considering the revision of the recycling streams, we must also consider these facts as part of that reform so that we stop conventional plastics going into food waste, reduce the time, energy and money spent by the organics recycling industry sorting the plastic waste out of the organics, and reduce the loss of yields, biogas and quality of compost and digestate produced. Furthermore, we must eliminate micro-plastics contaminating soil through this pathway.
There are 53 compost plants able to accept food waste and compostable packaging in the UK plus some 170 AD plants, some of whom can accept compostable films. UK composting and AD treats over 5 million tonnes of green and food waste. The infrastructure to treat thousands of tons of bioplastics exists. Operators are often reluctant to treat compostable materials because they are wary of contamination from non- compostable plastics. (1) (2) (3)