Compostable alternatives to plastic could worsen marine pollution and have other serious environmental impacts, a report from a committee of UK MPs has warned.
The world has a plastic problem — millions of tons of plastic enter the oceans every year, polluting our seas, littering our beaches and endangering wildlife.
In an attempt to curb the devastation wreaked on the oceans and on the environment, many businesses and consumers are turning to alternatives to plastic — like biodegradable or compostable packaging.
But instead of alleviating the problem of pollution, replacing plastic with other materials can still have a disastrous environmental impact, a report released by the UK Parliament's Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee warned.
In fact, such alternatives could even increase pollution by making people complacent about their use and disposal, the report released on Thursday suggested. It cited the environmental group Green Alliance, which had raised concerns about evidence that “people are more likely to discard material described as ‘biodegradable’ in the environment, which would make pollution on land and at sea even worse.”
The report found that consumers were confused about how to dispose of compostable packaging, which could result in contamination of recycling, as well as littering.
The committee said that materials were being used as substitutes for plastic “without proper consideration of wider environmental consequences, such as higher carbon emissions.”
In evidence included in the report, Juliet Phillips, ocean campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency stated that “if a biodegradable cup gets into the sea, it could pose just as much of a problem to marine life as a conventional plastic cup.”
The committee recommended that the UK Government should conduct a review of reusable and refillable packaging systems, and said that the UK government was not putting enough emphasis on reducing plastic food and drink packaging in the first place.
“We all know that plastic pollution of our rivers and seas is a huge problem. However, replacing plastic with other materials isn't always the best solution, as all materials have an environmental impact,” said MP Neil Parish, the committee chair.
“My committee is also concerned that compostable plastics have been introduced without the right infrastructure or consumer understanding about how to dispose of them. Fundamentally, substitution is not the answer, and we need to look at ways to cut down on single-use packaging,” he added.
“All food and drink packaging, whether plastic or another material, has an environmental impact,” the committee found.