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 Full text 
Tuesday, 15 April 2014 - Strasbourg Revised edition

Reducing the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags (debate)

  John Stuart Agnew, on behalf of the EFD Group. – Madam President, no matter how well intentioned the proposal to restrict the use of single-use carrier bags may be, there is a major unintended consequence that has been overlooked. The exemption of degradable plastic bags from this legislation will encourage the use of this product without thinking through what is likely to happen to degradable bags in the real world.

In a high proportion of cases they will be mixed up and disposed of together with conventional plastic bags and arrive at premises such as those of my constituent Jessica Baker, whose firm Chase Plastics recycles plastics into products which must not degrade, such as damp-proof plastic membrane film used in the building of new houses. The 30 employees of this longstanding firm could quickly be recycled into ex-employees if their product does not perform to specification.

This business is one of hundreds of similar firms across the EU which will not be able to guarantee the integrity of their product because of the near certainty of add mixture with degradable materials. Their customers will turn to China or elsewhere for the supply of a reliable product. The recycling industry actually purchases waste plastic, thereby ensuring that there is a real incentive not to dump or fly-tip this material.

The advent of degradable plastic is a significant breakthrough and is the obvious solution to the problem of waste plastic that becomes contaminated by soil and vegetative matter. This makes it a very expensive candidate for the recycling industry when the capital costs of a washing plant, of the significant quantities of water required and the disposal of the dirty water are all taken into account. The obvious example here is in agriculture where large quantities of plastic are used for silage wrap and on field crops for frost protection. Furthermore there is space on farms to store the massive bulk of this material as it undergoes the degradation process.

The Commission has set itself on a course that will damage both sectors of the industry: the promotion of degradable plastic will encourage third-country cowboys into that industry, undercutting the genuine manufacturers with a product which fails to degrade properly or worse still contains chemicals not allowed here. Meanwhile large stocks of plastic waste will accumulate because the recyclers cannot trust its provenance, but only a proportion of these stocks will actually degrade.

What will seriously degrade, of course, is the British recycling industry. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and the Green lobby in the European Union demonstrate this time and time again.

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