Biodegradable packaging ‘misleading’ according to experts at UCL

Scientists from University College London have said that packaging labelled as biodegradable or compostable is misleading because most does not break down naturally.

UCL’s experts have criticised companies that sell ‘eco-friendly’ products such as nappies, bags or cutlery, without properly informing consumers that industrial processors are required to break them down properly.

As a result, consumers can too easily add ‘compostable’ plastic waste to their food or garden compost by mistake, where it can take years to biodegrade.

There are only around 170 industrial composting facilities currently operating in the UK, which is not enough to compost meaningful amounts of waste. This means that much of it ends up in landfill.

The findings from UCL follow a study conducted by the University of Plymouth earlier this year, which found that biodegradable bags had broken down so little after being buried underground for three years that they could still be used to carry shopping.

Researchers from the University’s International Marine Litter Research Unit said the study raises questions about the reliability of biodegradable formulations and whether they can offer a realistic solution to the problem of litter.

The Bio Based and Biodegradable Industries Association (BBIA) has responded to the original study by UCL, saying it’s ‘misleading’.

In comments published by Packaging News, the organisation said that although they recognise biodegradable materials are disposed of in the wrong way, it is largely because the UK’s waste management system isn’t fit for purpose.

The BBIA’s comments follow our own analysis of biodegradable films last year, and how the UK’s waste infrastructure isn’t currently equipped to manage them properly.

Tim Steer, Commercial Manager here at Packer Products, shares the unease about biodegradable plastic. ‘The concern is that environmentally-conscious customers are buying compostable packaging, not realising that it is unlikely to end up in the right waste stream to break down as it’s intended,’ says Tim.

You can read our full analysis here.