Plastics Industry warns of serious unintended consequences of potential carrier bag exemption

Oxodegradable lobby accuses UK recyclers of ‘scaremongering’

The Plastics Industry expresses its disappointment that the Government is considering to press ahead with plans for a potential exemption to the single use carrier bag levy for biodegradable plastic bags.

Such mixed messages implying it is acceptable to litter some plastics bags and not others will only act to validate the throwaway society in which we now live and may lead to a rise in littering. The exemption also puts in jeopardy many jobs within the plastics recycling sector as confidence in the quality of recyclates will be undermined.

British Plastics Federation Recycling Group Chairman, Roger Baynham said, “Such a move would not only be contrary to the recommendations of the Government’s own Environmental Audit Committee but is also opposed by virtually all organisations in the plastics sector, including material suppliers, packaging manufacturers and plastics recyclers”

“Over the last three years, the UK has seen the emergence of significant infrastructure to support plastics recycling. This is at a critical stage where it is necessary for these investments to demonstrate profitable growth and to meet the needs of higher overall recycling targets. This policy exemption could undermine these businesses due to the potential for contamination.” he adds.

Baynham outlines his fears commenting that, “there is already evidence that recycled plastic is being replaced by virgin polymer in certain applications because of the fear that biodegradable content could undermine the integrity of products made using recycled polymers.”

Philip Law, Director General of the BPF, speaking on behalf of the wider industry grouping Plastics2020 added, “The proposed exemption would be discriminatory and would only serve to distort the market and promote littering”.

“The prospect of developing a whole industry in the UK making a type of bag favoured by legislation is misconceived; The UK Plastics Industry is trending upwards into higher technology products in the response to global economic opportunities and pressures. We want support for manufacturing high value added products.”

Law urges caution, warning that, “All this will spell a loss of jobs in what has been a potentially thriving plastics recycling sector and put paid to further progress in meeting Government’s ambitious recycling targets.”

In addition, he cautions that, “Segregation and collection would be very difficult indeed, as to the average user, bags made from conventional plastics and degradable materials appear very similar. Moves to promote degradable materials as an answer to littering could in fact create a perverse situation whereby irresponsible behaviour is justified as consumers will believe that the material will simply disintegrate after use.” he adds.

Concerns are also widespread amongst the wider waste management industry; Jacob Hayler, Executive Director at the Environmental Services Association commented, “ESA supports Plastics 2020 in calling for no exemption for biodegradable bags. Unless we can be sure that such bags will not end up in the plastics recycling route, which is very difficult indeed, the bags will undermine confidence in recycled plastics, but also risk getting stuck in sorting equipment at MRFs in the same way as plastic bags. A simple system that encourages reusable bags, and ideally also recycled content, would be much better.”

With such widespread opposition, Government needs to think twice, whilst there is still time, about offering the possibility of an exemption. It’s not just a question of technical feasibility – there’s a lot more in the balance, not least the future of plastics recycling in the UK.



Laura Hindley
Phone: 0207 457 5043

Toni Waters
Phone: 0207 591 3219



1. In 2009 the Plastics Industry launched a campaign in the UK “the Plastics 2020 Challenge” to challenge itself, consumers and Government to prevent valuable used plastics going into landfill by 2020. The 3 partners are: British Plastics Federation, PlasticsEurope and Packaging and Films Association.

2. The British Plastics Federation (BPF) is the UK trade association for the plastics industry – representing the whole supply chain including polymer producers, distributors, additives suppliers, machinery manufacturers, processors and recyclers.

3. The Environmental Services Association (ESA) is the trade association for the UK’s resource and waste management sector. We work with our members to transform waste and resource management across the country. This work helps enable our members to turn Britain’s waste into valuable resources, whilst continually protecting the environment.


British Plastics Federation, press release, 2015-01-23.


British Plastics Federation
Environmental Services Association ESA
Government of the United Kingdom
Packaging and Films Association (PAFA)