Plastic alternatives

Fact and fiction

  • Don’t spend money on alternative plastics unless you see hard evidence
  • Don’t use single-use plastics
  • Do choose to reuse instead
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The Government and the plastics industry aren’t regulating the use of terms like ‘bioplastic’, ‘biodegradable’ or ‘compostable’ in relation to alternative plastics. That means there’s nothing to stop some manufacturers using these terms to sell their products without any evidence to back up their claims, or any obligation to provide evidence if challenged.

Research shows that many of these products only degrade under very specific conditions that most shops and consumers in Cornwall won’t be able to replicate. You can’t just put a ‘compostable’ take away coffee cup in your home compost bin and expect it to decompose. It would need a specialist industrial composter and there are few of these in the UK and none in Cornwall at the moment.

The products, if tested at all, are often evaluated in unnatural conditions e.g. wet wipes are tested for decomposition in a warm washing machine not in a sewer or salt water environment where they will end up if flushed as advised on the packet.

There are other problems:

  • ‘Biodegradable’/‘compostable’ items encourage littering, especially ‘biodegradable’ dog poo bags.
  • They’re usually more expensive than traditional plastics.
  • Most shops and their customers don’t try to recycle or compost them any way and they just end up in the bin like a traditional single-use plastic.
  • Most alternative plastic products used by fast food outlets (who are trying to do the right thing) end up in a litter bin and go to the Cornwall Energy Recovery Centre.
  • There’s an established recycling industry for traditional plastics. Not only can recycling companies not recycle biodegradable plastics, these items also contaminate the traditional recycling streams.
  • If you try to compost them at home they’re highly unlikely to decompose in any meaningful timeframe.
  • Bio plastic does not encourage the behaviour change needed to address the problem of plastics ending up in our oceans, rivers, parks and hedgerows, in the food chain and in foreign landfill sites, which is why concerns about plastics were raised in the first place.

The bottom line is many alternative plastics can be worse for the environment, not better than traditional plastic. Please buy a travel mug, a re-useable water bottle or other re-useable item instead, or if you must choose a single-use plastic item, please opt for traditional plastic that you can recycle.