As England gets set to start paying for plastic bags, researchers at The Open University (OU) are making inroads into developing alternative biodegradable materials that could potentially replace fossil fuel derived polyethylene single-use carrier bags in the future.
A team at the OU’s Integrated Waste Systems (IWS) research group is working on an ambitious partnership worth around £250,000 with a UK SME, and funded by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to develop a new type of biodegradable single-use plastic carrier bags that is recyclable, biodegradable and will have no harmful effects on plants or animals.
From October 5 2015, all large retailers in England will have to charge customers 5p for each carrier bag they use. This charge is designed to reduce the quantity of single-use plastic carrier bags – and the tons of litter associated with them – and encourage people to reuse bags. According to Dr Boardman, the project’s lead, “the introduction of single-use carrier bag charge in England is a welcome development and follows the success of the policy in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”. For example, the data coming out from Wales shows a very encouraging c. 80 % reduction in plastic bag consumption over the last three years.
The introduction of the new single-use plastic carrier bag charge in England will potentially reduce the numbers of plastic bags going into landfill. The UK Government is also committed to investigating the possibility of exempting biodegradable carrier bags from the single-use charge in future. Dr Boardman adds “currently in the UK we still dispose of the majority of the plastic products we use in landfill sites”, which he believes “is a tragic waste of energy and resource”. Encouraging the uptake and use of biodegradable bags and materials is advantageous as this moves society away from a linear economic model based on ‘take, make, dispose’, which relies on there being an infinite supply of resources and energy, to one that enables us to maximise the limited natural resources available.
The results of this research and development are expected within the next year.