What is this ‘case for compostables’ – COMING TO NI – BIODEGRADABLE BAGS – Local Investor Leads The Way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

7 minutes, 54 seconds Read

Paul Marshall (there is more than one Paul Marshall in the world! intouch rugby website online guru I’m In A Box) has just invested in a company bringing a totally green alternative to plastic bags to NI. They are compostable bags! We asked him to submit a guest blog on the case for compostable bags – Enjoy!

Guest blog by Paul Marshall (not the Ulster Rugby Player)
The NI Assembly is introducing a plastic bag tax in April 2013. This will reduce plastic bag usage by 80% or more which is a terrific result. It still leaves 20% of plastic bags in use however.

I believe that the levy offers a singular opportunity to leverage retailers to voluntarily remove the remaining 20% of plastic bags off their shelves and make N Ireland 100% plastic Bag Free.

How does the tax create this environmental opportunity?
The levy sets a benchmark price of 5p for a plastic bag. In year 2 that will rise to 10p. The levy is collected by all retail shops on behalf of the government. The cost of collecting and accounting for the levy is paid for by the retailer and ultimately by us the consumers.

I propose that if bags made from compostable material are exempt from the levy, retailers could sell them at the same 5p charge and make a small profit instead of being a tax collector. With this scheme permitted, retailers would have no reason to provide a plastic alternative and petro-chemical plastic shopping bags would be removed 100%

What are compostable bags?
Compostable bags are bags that have been tested and are certified to EN13432 which means that within 6 months under composting conditions they degrade 100% leaving oxygen, water and compost material that can sustain plant growth. Degradation will automatically happen to bags that escape ‘into the wild’ thereby reducing the risk to wildlife and the countryside.

But simply using a different material is not solving the litter problem?
Yes you are absolutely correct, however well over 90% of plastic bags are reused, recycled or landfilled and surveys show they comprise just 0.03% of litter. That’s 3 pieces per 10,000 pieces of litter. The bag tax is not a litter reduction scheme because the bags aren’t a major litter contributor although it is often cited as such when it suits the speaker’s motive. The solution to the litter problem is of course re-education and awareness, taxing bags won’t provide that either, so the overall litter-reduction impact of the levy is so minor as to be a red herring to allow other objectives to be met..

What we need are measures in place that address all packaging litter, specifically confectionery, food packaging. We need serious consideration of a strategy in food packaging that matches the packaging to the lifespan of the product. Why display a 2-day sandwich in a carton that will last 500 years? Why won’t a Mars Bar wrapper disintegrate a few weeks after hitting the ground?

OK that seems sensible but I don’t see how that is relevant to the bag tax?.
[laughs]Good point …the bag tax has limited environmental benefit on its own but it’s a piecemeal approach to a huge problem. A positive needle in a big ugly haystack. That doesn’t mean that it is not worth doing, it just means that if we are going to do it, we need to look at it in the overall scheme of things and maximise the environmental benefit, not just provide an opportunity to take money out of NI consumers’ pockets – we want alternatives that can actually save money for you and me, the ultimate consumers.

How can it save us money if we’re paying out 5p a bag?
If I can return to the retailer-sold compostable bag option I propose above, the EN13432 bags that retailers would provide can be used in everyone’s household for managing day to day food waste. Most households have been supplied with a small kitchen caddy for this purpose. Unfortunately these are not used much because without a bag they quickly become unsanitary, yet when used with a plastic bag the food goes into landfill. Compostable bags are made from vegetable-based products and this means that they can accompany food waste into the organic Brown/Green bin supplied by the council and go straight to food waste.

When the councils collect the ‘green’ bin, the contents go for composting. Compostability is Nature’s way of recycling and for every kilo of food waste composted commercially, only 19g of carbon is emitted. Compare that to landfilling food waste which emits 4000 grammes of CO2 per kilo and carries its own tax of £64 per tonne. This cost is borne by the ratepayer – You & Me! Currently 55% of council waste goes to landfill, The EU Landfill directive requires us by 2013 to reduce that to 50% and then to 35% by 2020. If we don’t meet these targets we (ratepayers / tax payers) will be fined – AGAIN. Why do we repeat old practices?

Against this background, why are we even considering the proposed legislation that exempts single-use plastic food packaging from the levy just so it can go into landfill?. Why are we not exempting a solution that takes food waste away from landfill and gives it back to Nature to convert into a low-carbon impact asset? It’s a real struggle to make sense of the competing objectives at play with the way the Climate Change Act 2008 is being manipulated here.

You mentioned the ‘Green’ bin – I only use my bin for garden waste, it’s not feasible for food, I tried it but it stinks!
Funny, you should say that…We had a stand at the Ideal Home Show in Dublin a couple of weeks ago and we spoke with thousands of householders over the weekend. You’re not alone! The main household concern about the ‘green’ bin was sanitation over 2 week collection cycle. Put simply, smells and insects. By managing domestic food waste using an container such as the compostable shopping bags proposed above, these problems largely disappear. It is no small co-incidence that compostable bags won the Ideal Home Best Household Accessory 2012.

So you can buy these bags already?
They have been around for a couple of years but people are really only now switching on to how they are used. You can buy EN13432 compostable bags in the shops now for caddy bins but you will be paying 10p or more per bag. These will still be available of course, but a 5p compostable shopping bag not only gets your shopping home safely but is then re-used to help recycle your food waste, taking it out of landfill – saving ratepayer expenditure on landfill taxes & fines. Not to mention ‘free’ compost for the council.

People aren’t going to be happy about paying for bags!
That is understandable which is why the bag uptake rate will fall by 80%, The government’s banking on it!.Don’t forget also that plastic bags made available under the levy will go up to 10p in 2014 although experience in Ireland shows that a higher levy fee has zero impact on the uptake stats but does inclrease the revenue take. Compostable bags on the other hand if exempt will be subject to market forces and, with price competition amongst large retailers, the cost may indeed fall. But beyond economics, we have to look seriously at the fact that we live in unsustainable ways, we treat precious fossil and organic resources as disposable, they aren’t.I find it impossible to find any substantive reason to support any plan to either

A. Retain the 20% of petro chemical plastic from which the assembly plans to draw its benefit; or
B. Tax the viable and available alternatives that WILL help us meet landfill reduction targets and WILL save us money at the consumer level.

Well…That’s not exactly true because actually, I can find a substantive reason for those two situations being written into legislation. The reason being that the NI levy revenue is ALREADY earmarked for the Assembly to spend on other initiatives. Although falling into the category of ‘counted chickens’, they won’t want to give up on that even though a retailer-led initiative will remove all bags, stimulate the local retail sector and better-meet the requirements of the primary climate change legislation.

That’s fascinating stuff, where do I find out more?
This is only a short interview and contains a lot of headline numbers, I have a lot of information that expands on everything here in much greater detail. If anyone wants to find out any more about the draft legislation, its potential impacts and the alternative provided by compostable products, they should visit www.caseforcompostables.com

If people would indeed prefer a compostable bag instead of a plastic one – how can they support this?
The legislation is actually in the middle of the consultation process right now, it finishes on 9 July after which things get set in stone.

We would encourage any individual, business or industry to make a formal consultation response that supports levy exemption for EN134332-certified compostables – we also want to promote the concept of applying modern compostable polymer technology to ‘disposable’ packaging so it has a lifespan that matches the shelflife of the organic goods it contains.

Official DOE consultation, explanation and response forms are linked from the compostables site www.caseforcompostables.com. We urge you to speak with your employer, your industry body and your MLA. Ask them to read this article, visit the caseforcompostables site and speak with their party’s representatives on the Assembly Environment Committee.