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Call to scrap NNFCC after bags row

A manufacturer of degradable plastic bags has called for the National Non-food Crops Centre (NNFCC) to be scrapped after it supported Tesco’s decision to drop oxo-biodegradable bags.

Symphony Environmental Technologies (SET) described the NNFCC as a “quango which should be scrapped” following comments from its head of materials for energy and industry Dr John Williams, who said that “artificially accelerating the degradation of an oil-based plastic is neither economically or environmentally sensible”.

The company said it was “not surprised” by the NNFCC¹s comments, which allegedly promotes a competing biodegradable technology based on vegetable-derived material.

A spokesman for SET said: “This technology is now widely understood to be of very limited use and far too expensive. The NNFCC is another quango which should be scrapped.”

The company also dismissed Tesco’s allegations that the biodegradable additive made bags weaker than normal bags and did not contribute to recycling and re-use.

The spokesman added: “These bags were made with an additive supplied by one of our competitors, and they were weak because they were not suitably made. This has nothing to do with degradability.

“We are supplying bags made with our d2w degradable technology to supermarkets all over the world, and we do not get complaints that they are unfit for purpose. We offered to make the bags for Tesco but there was no response.”

SET has also criticised Tesco¹s use of a Defra report by Loughborough University, which found that the use of additives in petroleum-based plastics “does not improve their environmental impact and potentially gives rise to certain negative effects”, in order to substantiate the retailer¹s decision.

The spokesman said: “We do not see that the report can be relevant. This report was published 18 months ago, and contained some very positive findings about our type of degradable plastic.

“The minister at the time drew unjustifiable conclusions from the report, which are currently under review by Defra on the basis of detailed scientific evidence submitted by the British Plastics Federation, proving the biodegradability, recyclability and non-toxicity of the plastic.

“A life-cycle assessment published this year by the Environment Agency (EA) has shown that plastic carrier bags are the most environmentally sustainable option for carrying goods and protecting them from contamination.”

In response to the criticisms, Williams said: “The remit of the Loughborough Report was to ascertain the amount of independent evidence available which showed that the claims made by oxodegradable companies were true and proven.

“It provided a thorough peer reviewed report checked by Defra’s chief scientist. This report was not asked to decide if the technology worked or not, merely to obtain a review of independent evidence outside the companies and sponsored academics involved.

“Broadly, it showed there was not enough independent evidence to give a high level of confidence that the technology matched the claims in the market.”

A Carrier Bag Consortium source said: “For many years, we have held the view that pro-degradent additives in plastic bags do not assist the process of long-term re-use or recycling.

“Nor do they have convincing life-cycle analysis credentials according to the latest EA study on carrier bags. It may be the latter which convinced Tesco.”

British Retail Consortium head of environment Bob Gordon told MRW: “I think this is the right decision from Tesco, the challenge we have with oxo-biodegradable is that if you get it into the recycling stream it contaminates. If you try and recycle those bags, you get oxo-biodegradable in there as well, that additive remains and when you try and reuse that material, it starts to break down.

“We announced, as the on-pack recycling label, with support from the supermarkets, an initative to improve recycling infrastructure for PE films. If we still had oxo-biodegradable bags from the largest retailer, we’d risk contaminating that recycling stream, so when you look at the bigger picture, this is a really good decision.”

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