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Biodegradable plastic bags separation concerns

Defra is looking for a way to lessen the environmental impact of biodegradable bags on recycling as a new study reveals just 2% of degradable plastics in a recycling stream can adversely affect quality.

The department opened a tender for an 11-week £30,000 contract for the development of new ideas for the faster degrading bags and management of degradable products in the recycling waste stream.

“We believe a key area to be addressed is improving separation and detection techniques for different plastic polymer types,” Defra said.

A recent study commissioned by Brussels-based trade body European Plastics Converters (EuPC) concluded that as little as 2% of degradable materials in the plastics recycling stream could affect the quality of recyclate.

EuPC tested nearly 10 tonnes of plastic during the six-month study. Although it concluded there was little effect of different types of plastic on the recycling process, degradable material ‘conflicts’ with conventional material.

Defra’s announcement came after the Government announced its intention to introduce a five pence charge on thin-gauge, single-use plastic bags from autumn 2015. Biodegradable bags will be exempted from the charge if they meet a new standard, which will also be introduced.

The announcement met with concerns from the plastics industry. The British Plastics Federation’s Recycling Group warned that excluding biodegradable bags from the carrier bag levy would have “catastrophic consequences” for the UK recycling industry, claiming that biodegradable bags contaminate the waste stream as they cannot be recycled alongside conventional plastics.

The tender closes on 11 December.

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