Recyclable paper bags

Source: Abel & Cole

Abel & Cole has swapped compostable plastic packaging for new recyclable paper bags

Wrap has defended compostable plastic in response to a call from Abel & Cole to ditch it over environmental concerns.

Abel & Cole last week said it was scrapping compostable plastic and called on the “wider food and retail industry to follow suit”. It pointed to University College London research that said it was confusing consumers and there was no UK-wide system for collecting and processing.

Compostable plastic plays a key role in the UK Plastics Pact, with signatories including the UK’s biggest supermarkets committing to make 100% of plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Wrap – which oversees the pact – defended the goal, saying it supported Abel & Cole’s decision but insisting compostable plastic “has a role to play”. It pointed to guidance it set out in 2020 to limit the use of compostable plastic, specifically because of the lack a UK-wide infrastructure for processing it. It recommends six applications, focusing on scenarios where it replaces conventional plastic containing food or other organic matter, including caddy bags, ready meal trays and teabags. The aim is to provide alternatives that can be composted by at least those local authorities equipped to do so – rather than none in the case of the conventional plastic option.

Read more: Why Abel & Cole is ditching ‘compostable’ plastics

“If you think the UK uses about 60 billion teabags a year, that’s a lot of tea leaves and it’s better to have those composted with compostable bags and not going into landfill or incineration,” said a Wrap spokesman. “So, having a bag that can be composted along with the leaves is a good scenario.”

Abel & Cole sustainability project manager Hugo Lynch said that as well the UCL research – from 2020 – the organic food delivery company’s decision followed a post-Covid review of its own packaging impact. “A full review of the recent compostables research made it clear it was time for a big business shift.”