“One of the main enablers behind the potential growth of the UK compostables market is the availability of sustainable bioresource feedstocks.”
The UK’s compostable packaging market is poised to increase tenfold by 2025, according to a new report commissioned by the Biomass Biorefinery Network (BBNet) and authored by consultancy Ricardo Energy & Environment (@Ricardo_AEA).
Current estimates suggest that there are around 10,000 tonnes of compostable packaging already on the UK market. Yet, BBNet’s (@BBNet_NIBB ) Plastics in the Bioeconomy report predicts that this market has the potential to expand tenfold by 2025 to more than 100,000 tonnes, depending on the degree of market uptake. This could provide an economic benefit to the UK’s bioeconomy in excess of £267 million per annum.
According to BBNet, Plastics in the Bioeconomy is the first published comprehensive research into the current and potential future size of the UK’s fast-emerging compostable packaging market.
The report highlighted how plastic can often become too contaminated with food waste to be sent for recycling. When this is the case it needs to be sent for disposal either incineration or landfill. However, the report maintained that this presents an opportunity for the compostable packaging market. It stated that promoting compostable packaging will divert waste from landfill and producing compost from food waste would return organic matter to the soil “once fully broken down”.
Elsewhere, the report found that low-density polyethylene (LDPE) did not perform well when contaminated with food waste in relation to its “end-of-life”. The report stated: “If the LDPE is contaminated with food waste and cannot be recycled, then using compostable polylactic acid (PLA) for packaging results in over 50% less CO2e being emitted compared to traditional LDPE.”
However, the report also acknowledged that the transition towards compostable packaging requires whole system support. Most importantly, it maintained that the UK government would need to provide policy and regulatory support to drive change, which will involve investment in infrastructure and collections, public education and behavioural change.
The report also maintained that common plastic packaging items such as cotton buds, plastic bags, organic sacks and confectionery wrappers are already available in compostable packaging form.
In relation to feedstocks, the report stated that the UK has an abundance of renewable bioresources that could supply the biochemicals needed to produce low-carbon biopolymers for the compostable packaging market in a sustainable manner. This includes potato waste, sugar beet waste, maize waste, barley straw, oat straw and wheat straw, among other materials.
The BBNet report also highlighted how the growth in compostable packaging complemented the UK’s organic recycling infrastructure and supported the business case to increase the future capacity to meet a UK ‘Plastics Pact’ recycling target. The Plastic Pact is a collaborative circular economy initiative between government, industry and producers, delivered by the UK’s Waste and Resources Action Programme.
The Pact has set a 70% target for effective recycling or composting of plastics packaging with a view to achieving an average of 30% recycled content across all plastic packaging by 2025.
Professor Simon McQueen-Mason from the University of York and Director of the BBNet Network, said: “One of the main enablers behind the potential growth of the UK compostables market is the availability of sustainable bioresource feedstocks.
“Our research found that the UK has an abundance of renewable bioresources to supply the biochemicals needed to produce a range of biopolymers. In fact, when compared to the proposed growth of compostable packaging there is approximately 100 times more bioresources available in the UK.”
Paul Mines, CEO of Biome Bioplastics and member of BBNet’s Management Board, added: “The report provides an important roadmap for the ongoing bioplastic industry investment in capacity, raw materials and research and development in compostable plastics. It also gives an indication of likely flows for both the waste and resource recovery industry and local authorities as they reconfigure collection and treatment models to accommodate compostable materials.”
“This report gives, for the first time, a realistic idea of the scope of compostable plastic packaging in the UK,” David Newman, Managing Director of the Bio-Based and Biodegradable Industries Association (BBIA).
He added: “If policies are aligned to the declared ambitions of the UK Plastics Pact and the government’s intentions to eliminate non-recyclable plastics and stop food waste going to landfill, then compostables can play a critical role in the nexus between packaging and food waste recycling which traditional plastics are simply unsuitable for. This is good for the UK economy, good for UK jobs and great for the environment.”
BBNet is a “Phase II” biotechnology and biological sciences research council network in industrial biotechnology and bioenergy (BBSRC NIBB). BBNet’s remit encompasses bioprocessing, bio-catalysis and fermentation of biomass and will embrace chemical conversion, engineering and combinations of these processes with thermochemical and other technologies to produce fuels, chemicals and materials.