New plastics for a new era?
On 11 January 2018, the British Government committed itself to a crackdown on plastics. Its policy paper ‘A Green Future: Our 25 year Plan to Improve the Environment’ contained several measures to cut down on plastic use. These included extending the 5p plastic bag charge to small retailers, removing consumer single use plastics from the government estate, supporting the water industry to significantly increase water fountains and working with retailers on introducing plastic-free supermarket aisles. At first glance the Government’s policies would seem to present a significant challenge to the plastic industry. However, the Government’s strategy may also provide an opportunity. Particularly if the plastics industry can make the case for new technologies like biodegradable plastics.
Plastic use is widespread because it meets a need, the Government’s strategy does not reduce this need. For example, as the British Plastics Federation has pointed out, without packaging food waste in stores increased by a third. Without a comprehensive recycling strategy this may lead to more waste and more demand for food. Neither of which will help the Government meet its ambitions of a greener future.
The plastics industry can use the example of advances like biodegradable plastics to show how plastics can be part of a greener future. Unlike petroleum based plastics, which do not break down over time, biodegradable plastics convert into natural substances when exposed to certain environmental conditions. This means that, provided they are treated properly after use, they can be used without some of the environmentally damaging effects of traditional plastics. For example, polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) decomposes in soil and waterways. Meaning that its use could bring an end to floating garbage. Moreover, manufacturing biodegradable bioplastics produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than making petroleum based plastics.
This could provide an opportunity to investors in biodegradable plastics. By working with policymakers to show how their products can help meet Britain’s ambitions, biodegradable plastic investors can open up a larger market for their products.