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Confusion over Oxford's foam packaging policy

A review into street trading policy at Oxford City Council has led to confusion over whether outlets are allowed to use expanded polystyrene packaging for takeaway food.

A policy approved by councillors on 13 April stipulated that vendors had to use packaging that was considered to be biodegradable or recyclable.

MRW understands that the council decided that such packaging, which cannot be processed at its local facilities, is being treated as recyclable because one British company recycles polystyrene fish boxes.

According to the website for Recycle Now, the national recycling campaign for England, polystyrene is seldom recycled. Whilst the plastic is recyclable in principle, the cost of doing so is even higher if it has been used for food as it has to be cleaned more rigorously.

A blog on the Isonomia website says: “It is essentially non-biodegradable, taking hundreds – perhaps thousands – of years to decompose.”

An Oxford council spokesman said: “Retailers or businesses should use recyclable or biodegradable materials whatever they are, whether it’s plastic, polystyrene or paper. Those two key terms address any material that anyone would use in food packaging businesses in Oxford: either recyclable or biodegradable.”

A guidance note for traders is beng prepared by licensing officers.

Early media reports suggested Oxford would be taking the lead over US cities such as New York, which recently announced enforcement of a polystyrene ban to take effect this summer after it was found that no market exists for post-consumer polystyrene foam collected in kerbside recycling.

Martin Kersh, executive director of the Foodservice Packaging Association, claimed that the council’s initial draft policy document proposed that food packaging should be both biodegradable and recyclable but that was changed to either biodegradable or recyclable following his guidance.

The council denied this and said that the current wording was part of the policy from the beginning.

“It is very clear, Oxford City Council voted unanimously to prohibit street vendors from using packaging that isn’t biodegradable or recyclable. This is irrespective of material,” Kersh said.

“Foam packaging is recyclable and we have been discussing how best this can be achieved with the Oxford [manager] who has been researching recycling options.

“We will work with Oxford to help improve their recycling of foodservice packaging and applaud them for wishing to do so. We imagine a lot of traders are now confused as a result of the statement made.”

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