Former environment secretary John Gummer, now Lord Deben, anticipated that the bio-based market, including biopolymers, would become one of the most important areas of innovation “but the biggest danger” is to over-claim at the beginning”.
Speaking at a Fera science workshop in London last month, he drew parallels with the way Monsanto “over-claimed on GM foods”. He suggested the miscalculation and the response in parts of the UK media had led to “despair” among leading businesses eager to explore the opportunities of GM foods. “We have to be careful not to make claims that are not yet true,” Lord Debden added.
Suppliers of compostable films have indicated that they are wary of making exaggerated claims for their products. In particular, they have been keen to avoid claims regarding degradation in the open environment, whether on land or in water.
Fera used the workshop to present the findings of a Food Standards Agency-commissioned report to establish how much research had been carried out in the area of bio-based food contact materials.
Little peer-reviewed research
Professor Graham Bonwick, lead scientist at Fera, reported that very little or no peer-reviewed research existed into risk areas including heavy metals, pesticide residues, natural toxins and allergens.
Andy Sweetman, sales and marketing manager at bio-based film manufacturer Futamura UK, told the workshop that manufacturers of materials meeting the BS EN 13432 standard for compostability adhere to the same standards as producers of conventional plastics.
Futamura's NatureFlex film is used in the packaging for Two Farmers crisps, supplied by Parkside Flexibles.
Sweetman, who chairs the Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association, took issue with the idea that composting, or ‘organic recycling’, was “not important”. “Up to 40% of the waste we generate is food, garden or other organic waste, and as such is suitable for anaerobic digestion or composting,” he said.