Until 14 October DEFRA is running a call for evidence on developing standards for bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics.[1] Notably, the Government highlights stimulating low carbon growth as one of the policy motives behind the call for evidence, underlining the link between tackling plastic use and waste and the UK’s target to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Responses to the call for evidence will aid Government in its ongoing information gathering exercise and inform future regulatory action. Expert advice is sought regarding: (1) the overall sustainability of bio-based and biodegradable plastic products (in particular, in comparison with other materials); (2) existing plastic degradation standards and how these could be promoted without any adverse effects to the environment and disposal routes; and (3) the design and implementation of standards for biodegradable plastics to ensure that they fully biodegrade in a reasonable timeframe in specified environments.

The Government will publish a response within three months of it closing.

Comment 

This is the Government’s latest step in implementing the Growing the Bioeconomy Strategy[2] and the Waste and Resources Strategy.[3] Other related measures the Government has proposed include: a tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content, significant reform to the Producer Responsibility Packaging Waste Extended Producer Responsibility regime and a Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers (discussed in more detail in our earlier article). A separate DRS is being proposed for Scotland.

It is notable that the European Commission has committed, as part of the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy,[4] to establish a clear regulatory framework for plastics with biodegradable properties, including harmonised rules for defining and labelling compostable and biodegradable plastics. When they are devised, the harmonised EU rules will inevitably overlap with any policy measures independently adopted by the UK regarding standards of biodegradability and compostability. In order to ensure consistency both for industry and consumers it is hoped that the call for evidence will take account of the parallel developments at EU level.