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01 | 2008

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Politics Bioplastics

Politics Bioplastics boom in the UK Article contributed by Andy Sweetman Market Development Manager Innovia Films Ltd, Cumbria, UK Whilst the first examples of biodegradable and compostable packaging started to appear on UK supermarket shelves as far back as 2001, there has been a very marked increase over the past two years, with most of the UK’s major retailers introducing certified compostable packaging, generally starting with either Organic Fresh Produce applications or other short shelf-life products such as the classic British triangle-shaped sandwich!. Traditionally the UK has been behind much of the rest of Europe in many aspects of waste management, so how is it that the UK is now seen by many as a major driving force behind the introduction of compostable and renewable packaging? Market Drivers Three years ago virtually nobody had heard the expression ‘Carbon footprint’, but suddenly Climate Change is understood by many to be one of the principal challenges, perhaps even the greatest challenge that the human-race will face going forward. Media focus on the environment, both written and audio-visual, has increased dramatically, and packaging in particular has a major ‘image problem’. Now its war on packaging! screamed the front page of the Independent newspaper in April last year. The Daily Mail, Daily Express and Sun newspapers have all dedicated pages and pages last year to examples of ‘unnecessary’ or ‘over’ packaging in the UK supermarkets. Environmental Pressure groups have targeted the same subject, and even that long-standing British institution the Women’s Institute, normally better known for organising local fundraising events, talks and cream-teas, have been running a national anti-packaging campaign to great effect over recent months… Packaging has three major problems in this regard: • Producers, food packers and the retail chains understand that packaging reduces waste, increases shelf-life, aids transportation and ensures product identification. But consumers don’t… All they see is too much of it, something which they feel is designed to sell the product rather than protect it, and then as soon as they remove it, its just rubbish! • There are undoubtedly examples of over-packaging in the market. How can one justify four pears being packed with individual stickers on each pear, a foam thermoformed base, transparent thermoformed lid, the whole pack then shrinkwrapped, and finally additional labels on the front and base of the pack? …and yet this pack can be found on the shelves of a major UK retailer… • Visible volume. Plastic packaging only represents some 5% by weight of household waste, but it looks to consumers like there’s so much more… 16 bioplastics MAGAZINE [01/08] Vol. 3

Politics The Recycling Revolution Compared to the leading mainland European countries, The UK’s recycling rates are poor. However the UK is in the midst of a recycling revolution. Household recycling stood at a pitiful 7% in 1997! By 2006/07 however, it has reached 31%, and the leading local authorities are now recycling over 50%. Moreover, far from resenting the idea of sorting their rubbish for recycling, the majority of UK consumers are embracing the concept. For example, Until three years ago, the city of Carlisle had no ‘kerbside recycling’ scheme. Step by step they have introduced kerbside collection of householder sorted recyclable waste so that by the summer of 2007 the following was in place for alternate weekly collection: • All rigid plastic containers & bottles • Paper • Metals • Garden waste • Cartonboard • Glass Not surprisingly Carlisle is now one of the ‘leading lights’ in UK recycling reaching 52% recycling of household waste this year… Driven by the need to meet increasingly stringent recycling and composting targets, most of the local authorities in the UK now operate separate collections of garden waste. Whilst the dominant collection receptacle for garden waste is wheeled-bins, a growing number of local authorities provide residents with compostable sacks either instead of bins or as a supplementary service. The area of biowaste management which is seeing the greatest level of growth in recent times is separate food waste collection. There are now nearly 50 different food waste schemes running across the UK most of which are proving very popular. However, the major limiting factor for food waste schemes is the ‘yuk‘ factor whereby residents stop using the service as soon as their bins start to smell – in some areas participation is as low as 25%. The most successful schemes, where participation can be as high as 90%, all avoid this ‘yuk‘ factor by providing residents with annual supplies of compostable kitchen caddy liners. For example, South Shropshire District Council not only provide compostable bags for food waste and gar- den waste but a partnership of local traders has also switched to using Mater-Bi ® compostable carrier bags which are clearly branded and fully accepted for their food waste collection scheme. The Retailer and Packers’ role The majority of UK retailers met in London in 2005 to agree an action plan to reduce packaging waste, leading to the so-called Courtauld agreement (named after the Courtauld gallery, where the meeting took place). Since then a steadily increasing number of well-known brand-owners have also signed up to the scheme. (See the Wrap website for further details). Fundamentally the British tend to shop in supermarkets or other large well-established retailers. The 13 original signatories of the Courtauld commitment represented >90% of the UK Grocery market! They are therefore a potentially huge driving force for positive change, and the UK retail market is extremely dynamic and fast-moving. Whilst the Courtauld commitment largely seeks to reduce unnecessary packaging and waste, a number of retailers have gone a step further, by switching suitable product lines to compostable and/or renewable packaging materials. Different retail chains have taken different approaches as illustrated by two of the companies driving the move: Sainsbury’s have put the accent on compostable materials and in particular materials known to be suitable for home-composting. They have started with a strong focus in the organic Fresh Produce arena. Flow-wrapping of whole produce such as tomatoes, peppers, courgettes is most likely to use a tray made from sugar-cane wrapped in Innovia’s NatureFlex film. Heavier products such as apples or carrots, requiring high seal strength and or tear-resistance are typically packed using film blown from Novamont’s bioplastics MAGAZINE [01/08] Vol. 3 17

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