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Public confusion about compostable and biodegradable materials

Consumer research has highlighted the confusion the public have over new forms of biodegradable and compostable packaging which retailers are increasingly introducing.

The study commissioned by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) involved questioning over 400 members of the public in order to find out how informed they were about the materials.

WRAP materials development manager Peter Skelton told the delegates of a recent Recoup-organised conference on the future of plastics: We cant pretend this material is not going to be around it will be and in far greater quantities.

Results from the focus groups revealed that people recycle by format rather than material type. For example they are happy to separate all drinks bottles but do not want to sort these into individual material types.

What we found was public confusion with people wanting to put biodegradable packaging into the plastics recycling stream, plastic into the composting stream and the potential disengagement of the public from plastics recycling altogether, Skelton said.

The research found the public favoured home compostable bio-plastics to those that had to go to commercial composting facilities. This makes polylactic acid (PLA) bottles, generally made from cornstarch or sugar cane, and requiring commercial facilities, a key concern. New plants can detect and eradicate this contamination, but at a current rate of less than 1% they have a very low impact.

But what if this rises to about 20%? Skelton asked. The outlook is currently okay unless major brands move into PLA, such as if developments meant they were able to contain carbonated drinks.

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