NEWS RELEASE 21 October 2019


The Foodservice Packaging Association, which includes members in Ireland, has challenged the use of the term ‘biodegradable’ in relation to single use plastic, in the proposed Harmful Plastics Prohibition Bill to be debated in the Dáil this week.

The proposed Harmful Plastics Prohibition Bill includes a proposal to promote the use of ‘biodegradable materials’ in packaging.  The use of the term’ biodegradable’ is of concern in this context.  There is no standard for biodegradability with regard to how a material might biodegrade and the time period over which biodegradation takes place.  In addition, litter charities are mostly opposed to the use of the term ‘biodegradable’ as it encourages littering.

Is the intention of the Bill to encourage the use of compostables? If so, it is most important not to interchange the two terms as if they were the same.

If the intention is to encourage compostable packaging, then it must be made clear that only packaging certified as compostable can be referred to as compostable.  Compostable packaging needs to identifiable as such and clear instructions given to the public with regard to how to dispose of this correctly and sufficient composting facilities must be in place nationwide.  Home compostable packaging legally needs to meet specific criteria to be certified, before it can be described as such.

A number of retailers describe their packaging as ‘plastic-free’ because the plastic is derived from plant-based sources. No matter how derived, all plastics, whether petro-chemical or plant based, are made from polymers.  Therefore plant derived polymers mean the resulting plastic packaging is not ‘plastic-free’.  It is worth noting that the proposed UK tax on plastic packaging containing less than 30% recycled content does not exclude compostable packaging and EU proposals similarly include in their scope all plastics, whether derived from petroleum chemicals or plant-based sources.

It is most important the pubic isn’t confused into believing packaging made with so called alternative materials is the end of their involvement and that the item is acceptable in litter, whether marine or on land.  The correct disposal of all packaging no matter how produced is key, with the required infrastructure in place.  Retailers must not be led to believe that purchasing premium-priced compostables or what might be sold to them as ‘biodegradable’, means they have no further responsibility.

The FPA agrees solutions are needed to ensure the goals of the circular economy are fulfilled, however simply substituting ‘biodegradable’ or compostable packaging for recyclable plastic packaging is not a short cut to achieving these goals nor do they represent a solution for litter and marine pollution.