Compostable plastics: unlocking existing barriers to systems change

March 15, 2021 2 min read

Compostable plastics: unlocking existing barriers to systems change


It was really encouraging to hear from the UCL Plastic Waste Innovation Hub on Thursday about the progress being made to propose a fully circular solution for compostable plastics in the UK. 

Led by Professor Mark Miodownik, the project has made huge steps on all of its goals:-


  • Validate the feasibility of processing large volumes of compostable plastics using industrial composting, anaerobic digestion facilities, and home compost facilities across the UK. This is absolutely key the successful processing of compostable nappies alongside the other growing sectors of bioplastics. Nappy waste currently makes up around 7% of all household waste, so the volumes are huge. Current facilities would be swamped if all nappy waste suddenly converted to compostables and ended up in their waste stream. The research indicates that the government will need to invest in a network of localised facilities to enable composting of all the bioplastics predicted to be in circulation by 2030. 
  • Improve the effectiveness of industrial composting of biodegradable plastics. Different bioplastics will require different microbes and conditions to enable ideal composting and the technology needs further enhancement to ensure we gain the most from the biogas collection in all instances. Done right industrial composting not only removes a waste landfill issue but will also produce enough biogas to power thousands of our homes in each region. 
  • Develop the automatic detection and sorting technologies for compostables within the existing waste collection facilities. This sorting technology alongside the next key goal around labelling, is key to ensuring that only the right products enter the compostable waste stream. A product will need to be labelled in such a way that the consumer can identify the correct waste collection and the sorting technology will need to be designed to effectively identify and remove any false items quickly. 
  • Propose solution for packaging design and labelling and make an evidence-based recommendation for a UK code of practice. The Environment Bill, clause 10, will ensure that all nappy companies are required to print exact ingredients on their packaging. It is a move we very much look forward to. An "eco" nappy will be required to undertake a specific UK standard assessment and print a single label on the packaging which will remove the 'greenwashing' claims and consumer confusion. 
  • Assess current European and International standards and make evidence-based policy recommendations for the UK system design and regulation of a circular economy of compostable plastics. Germany and Finland are much further forward in their journey to make nappy and bioplastic composting standard practice. We can learn from their successful programmes, such as Dycle, and tailor the design for the UK market and geography. 

We look forward to continuing our corporate sponsorship of the programme and working with Mark and his team to bring about a lasting change for the whole of the UK. 

Read more at Home - Plastic Waste Hub

This research is supported by a grant from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) delivered via the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).