Both compostable and biodegradable materials carry risks. The Bugle
spoke to Richard Jones, managing director of Nelson Packaging in Lancashire.
Nelson makes 250 million plastic shopping bags every year for Dixons and other chains. Jones says this is two per cent of total UK consumption, which he puts at 12 billion bags a year. It's still too many but it''s somewhat fewer than the number claimed in the above quote from the Daily Mail
Jones says Tesco and other retailers have abandoned the use of biodegradable bags because EU legislation says the bags must be recyclable but they can't be recycled with other plastic bags. "Biodegradability," says Jones, "is not the answer."
David Tyson, chief executive of the Packaging and Industrial Film Association (PIFA) explains. He tells the Bugle
that the oil-based polymers the packaging industry has used until now can be cleaned and re-used.
But if you mix those polymers with the new generation of 'bio-films' and 'degradable', 'biodegradable' or 'compostable' plastics in a recycling facility, says Tyson, "there's a limit to what you can use that recycled material for."
For example, if compostable or biodegradable plastic gets into the plastic used to make damp-proof courses in buildings, the damp courses will develop holes at those points.
So if degradable plastics of any kind gets into household waste, the local council or whoever collects the waste has to introduce strictly controlled processes for separating the non-permanent from the permanent bags. That will cost money.
Jane Bickerstaffe, director of the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (Incpen) is in no doubt. She told the Bugle
that, though there is a proliferation of oil, non-oil and hybrid packaging available, it's better for the environment not to complicate the waste stream any further. "It's difficult enough," said Bickerstaffe, "to get people to segregate simple waste as it is."
What do you think?
's support for the campaign is based solely on plastic's unsightliness, the danger it poses to wildlife, and the cost of clearing it up.
But we also have to accept that introducing non-standard plastics into bags carries dangers. One is that the producers of plastic bags and other products will wash their hands of all recycled plastic and stick to products made from oil. At least they know what it is and where it came from. With recycled plastics, they can't be sure.
Another risk is that, once plastic carrier bags disappear from the high street, consumers will congratulate themselves on a job well done and think they've saved the planet. If we want to rid the world of litter there are dozens of things we can all do to before we get rid of the bags.
One is to reduce our children's consumption of snack foods and the waste its packaging causes. Most of the plastic waste you encounter on a walk from Bookham village to Effingham, for example, is not carrier bags but water bottles, and sweet and crisp wrappers. All plastic products – good and bad, take huge amounts of energy to produce. That, says Smith, is because steam cracking is a high temperature process that uses a lot of heat – and that's the link with global warming.
Visible though they are, plastic bags account for a tiny fraction of the plastic waste we buy and throw away. Banishing plastic bags is good but it's not enough.
We could also discourage the sale of toy helium baloons. This is not just because if you let one go it has to come down somewhere. No matter how deep you go into Ranmore Common or elsewhere on the North Downs these days, it doesn't take long before you see a brightly coloured balloon glinting from a tree.
It's because we're running short of helium
, whose main use, it turns out, is in MRI medical scanners
If Councillors and officials were serious about global heating they would drive emissions down by, for example, enforcing speed limits, or cracking down on shopkeepers who waste energy by leaving their doors open all year round. Large shopping chains like heated open doorways because they think it encourages people into their shops. The campaign against open doors is is growing too
and may even be the next big push after the war on carriers.
Even that issue, however, is is not straightforward. The Red Cross charity shop in Dorking, for example, keeps the doors open to give easier access to the disabled. As Incpen's Jane Bickerstaffe puts it, as soon as you get one environmental benefit, "another issue pops up somewhere else."
More detail on the different types of plastics here
What do you
think? Tell the editor