New guidance has been published to address confusion over compostable plastic packaging by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).
Based on the products and infrastructure that are available to packaging designers and specifiers today, the guidance from WRAP – which leads the UK Plastics Pact – identifies key applications and opportunities for compostable plastic packaging.
These are often items which are likely to have food residue on them and could potentially facilitate the recycling of food waste such as tea bags, coffee pods, ready meal trays, fruit and vegetable stickers and food caddy liners.
Recommendations about how to communicate with citizens about appropriate disposal of compostable plastic packaging are also provided – for example, explaining whether the item can be composted at home or not, and highlighting the importance of not putting them in the recycling bin with conventional plastics.
“We know from research that 77% of citizens believe that compostable plastic is better for the environment than other types of packaging. However, compostable plastic is still plastic, and it is no silver bullet for solving plastic pollution,” said Helen Bird, Strategic Engagement Manager at WRAP.
“Businesses need to be clear on when it is viable, given the complexities surrounding current treatment infrastructure. When it comes to recyclability, WRAP is clear that a claim of ‘recyclable’ should only be made if it can be recycled in practice.
“The same should be applied to compostable plastics. And it is critical that end markets for recycled plastics are not compromised; people need clear instruction not to place compostable plastics in the recycling bin.
“But there are certain applications where it can be a helpful alternative to conventional plastics; absolute no-brainers include fruit stickers and tea bags. This new guidance will help steer decision-making on this complex and high-profile topic.”
The guidance highlights the importance of communicating with citizens to ensure they end up in the correct bin, but the challenges in doing so owing to the current infrastructure. Some instructional phases are suggested such as “place in your food or garden waste bin if your local council accepts it”, while also recommending statements to counter the risk that some people may see compostable plastics as a license to litter.