Contamination alert over ‘compostable’ bioplastic bags

Horsham councillor Philip Circus with one of the bioplastic bags. Photo:  Steve Robatrds SR1908172 SUS-190325-170327001
Horsham councillor Philip Circus with one of the bioplastic bags. Photo: Steve Robatrds SR1908172 SUS-190325-170327001

An explosion in the use of bioplastic bags - aimed at curbing pollution - could contaminate compost made from recycled garden waste in West Sussex.

And it could mean the widespread tainting of recycled compost throughout the whole country.

That’s the stark warning spelled out this week from Horsham District Councillor Philip Circus.

Mr Circus, who is council cabinet member for waste and recycling, spoke out after discovering from West Sussex waste management firm Viridor that bioplastic bags are not compostable - in contradiction to widespread beliefs that they help to alleviate the planet’s plastic pollution problem.

“It’s a major risk of contamination to recycling,” he said.

Bioplastic bags are now commonly used by a number of major companies and organisations including the National Trust and the online supermarket firm Ocado.

Mr Circus said: “We know it’s a problem in West Sussex and we’re trying to find out how extensive the problem is across the country.”

He said Horsham Council would be writing to the Local Government Association and to environment secretary Michael Gove.

He said: “We are going to raise this as a matter of urgency because it would appear that a large number of organisations are now resorting to these bags principally in order to burnish their environmental reputation. With the best of intentions, it is so easy to create a situation like this that simply undermines our recycling efforts rather than further them.”

He revealed his concerns after Viridor urged people in West Sussex not to place bioplastic bags in garden recycling waste bins even if the bags state they are compostable.

Viridor says compost in the county is produced to strict guidelines set by the British Standards Institution. The firm says that ‘even packaging which states it is compostable, could ruin the quality of the compost produced.’ It urges people to put bioplastic material in their household rubbish bins.

“Our ultimate aim,” said Mr Circus, “is to make sure nothing undermines our efforts to carry on our work to increase the amount of our recycling.”

Viridor says that bioplastic bags could be used in home compost because that is not subject to such strict regulations.