A report from bioeconomy consultants NNFCC has found that a paradigm shift from oil-based plastic to plastics produced from renewable materials and designed to be recyclable or biodegradable, offers the potential to address the issues with plastics while retaining its many benefits.

Adrian Higson, Lead Consultant Bio-based Products at NNFCC said in an interview: “Bio-based plastics are far less carbon-intensive than oil-based plastics. Because they are produced from plants that have sequestered atmospheric carbon dioxide during their growth, they can help reduce carbon dioxide emissions associated with oil-based plastics.”

At the same time, the introduction of biodegradable plastics can provide a solution to the dilemma of how to treat hard to recycle products. As such, biodegradable plastics have a key role to play in the circular economy, according to NNFCC. The collection of compostable waste needs to develop hand in hand with the availability of composting facilities, ideally through coordinated local authority action.

Given the right circumstances, i.e. government policy creating conditions conducive to investment, the report estimates that domestic production could reach 120 thousand tonnes over a period of 5-10 years. “With the right investment in scale-up facilities, the UK could be the world leader in plastics, only this time it would export sustainable, biodegradable plastics, that help alleviate plastic waste”, says Higson.

The NNFCC estimates that an industry of this size would create over 5,000 jobs in primary plastic manufacture while supporting a total of 34,000 jobs and contributing £1.92 billion of gross value added across the wider UK economy. According to the report, the British agricultural industry produces enough biomass to supply a UK bioplastics industry.

You can download the full report on the NNFCC website.