8 November 2019 by Joshua Doherty

SUPs: Warning over ‘unintended consequences’

Plastics recyclers have warned that the regulatory framework behind the reduction of single use plastics (SUPs) could cause “serious unintended consequences”.

This was the general verdict from the 2019 British Plastics Federations (BPF) recycling seminar held in London yesterday, November 7.

The event was kicked off by Roger Baynham, the chairman of the BPF Recycling Group, who explained that while good work has been done in introducing legislation, he had concerns over the consequences which might ensue.

Roger Baynham, chairman of the BPF

Referring to the the ‘Resources and Waste Strategy’, he said: “We are seeing modulated EPR proposals designed to incentivise packaging which has been made to be recycled, and also incorporate recycled content. Which on the other hand, would penalize packaging which does neither.

“One of the questions is, are there unintended consequences where functionality becomes secondary to avoid EPR or taxes? This might result in things like increased food waste or poor performing materials.”

Mr Baynham remarked that “playing on anti-plastics sentiment”, there has already been examples of companies introducing replacement materials for some plastic packaging with less resource-efficient materials.

“There is also a lack of clarity over the definition of what counts as  recycled content, unbelievably there is no single accepted definition across the EU or UK departments,” Mr Baynham said.

Knowledge gaps

Following on from Mr Baynham, was professor Richard Thompson from Plymouth University.

Professor Richard Thompson from Plymouth University

He explained that “for the first time in the last 20 years”, there is an understanding “across the board on the problems of plastic pollution, particularly in the marine environment”,  but there is a “knowledge gap”  over what to do next.

“There are unknowns, but if we accept that there is enough evidence of harm to do something about it, the next logical question is simply what we are going to do about it,” he explained.

Professor Thompson added: “And actually, that’s the bit we’re critically lacking information for. My plea to the research funding committee, and those that need to gather the evidence, is that we need to better understand how to trade off the solutions to avoid the unintended consequences we’ve alluded to.

“We’ve got the heat turned up by the media and the whole industry wants a solution, but there is no roadmap on what this is and this is leading companies diving into what they think are solutions, but could actually be making things worse.”

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