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Agenda Item No

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Scrutiny Committee (Economy and Environment): 13th March, 2012

 

Report of the Director of Environmental and Economic Regeneration

 

Waste Minimisation and Bio-degradable Packaging

 

Purpose of the Report

1.             To consider the advantages and disadvantages of the Council promoting the use of 'minimal' and 'bio-degradable' packaging for private 'fast food' outlets within the Vale of Glamorgan.

2.             To review the Council's legislative powers to force a change in food packaging arrangements.

3.             To advise of the Council's position on the use of bio-degradable packaging throughout its catering operations.

Recommendations

1.             That the Council's web site details are amended to feature advice on waste minimisation and the use of bio-degradable packaging for retail food outlets.

2.             That the Council's catering service continues to increase the range of bio-degradable products used subject to the budgetary constraints of this service.

3.             That all fast food outlets within the Vale of Glamorgan are advised of the web site information and access arrangements as part of the current contact and correspondence processes operated by the Council's Regulatory Services Division.

4.             That Officers consider any measures necessary to address the specific littering problems identified within the Vale of Glamorgan by the Local Environmental Audit and Management System Report (LEAMS) 2010 / 2011.

Reasons for the Recommendations

1.             To ensure that relevant information is available at low cost.

2.             To continue to reduce the amount of non bio-degradable packaging should funding allow.

3.             To provide a low cost method of advising fast food outlets of the new web site information.

4.             To more effectively target resources to the specific problems identified by the independent report.

Background

4.             This report is provided in response to a request for consideration by Councillor R.F. Curtis.  The full details of the request are shown within the agenda.

5.             In producing this report it has been necessary to source information from both the Planning and Transportation Division and Strategic Planning and Performance Division of the Learning and Development Directorate (internal catering information).

6.             Prior to seeking to address the specific questions posed by the request, in their relative order, the report considers the advantages and disadvantages of both minimising packaging and of using bio-degradable packaging as an alternative to the traditional 'oil based' packaging products.

Relevant Issues and Options

7.             A 2008 report by the Highways Agency in England identified a rise in the amount of litter dropped annually of approximately 500% since the 1960's (Highways Agency, Litter Facts and Figures, 2008 www.highways.gov.uk/knowledge/12043.aspx).  This report identified fast food packaging as one of the top 5 sources of street litter.

8.             A Welsh Government (WG) report entitled 'How Clean are our Streets'?  (All Wales LEAMS Report 2010/11) identified smoking related litter as the most common sources of litter in Wales, followed by sweets and crisp wrappers and then drinks related litter; with fast food litter featuring less than the other 3 sources.

9.             However, when questioned respondents to this report felt that fast food packaging had the most negative impact on the look and feel of an area (71%) followed by cans and bottles (68%) and chewing gum (65%).  (All Wales LEAMS Report 2010/11).

10.        The Cabinet Member for Visible and Building Services has requested a report to Cabinet featuring an action plan aimed at addressing the main litter problems identified within the 2010 / 2011 LEAMS Report.

11.        Clearly minimising the amount of packaging used should be the primary aim, however this is not generally a practical option in the case of fast food suppliers.  Whilst guidance and education could be improved, investment on methods of waste minimisation in this case is not likely to realise commensurate dividends, as some form of packaging is usually required, if only for food hygiene reasons.

12.        If minimisation is not always practical, what are the relative benefits and disadvantages of using bio-degradable packaging?

13.        Whilst bio-degradable packaging will produce greenhouse gas when it is landfilled or composted, true bio-degradable packing is more acceptable to the environment than the use of the traditional 'oil based' packaging products.  However, any product that ultimately becomes a waste will have 'pros' and 'cons' either on our local amenity, ecological footprint or our natural and living environment.

14.        The recognised 'Pros and Cons' of bio-degradable packaging are listed below:

Pros

  • Litter will degrade away after only a couple of months, instead of breaking down over hundreds of years in landfill.
  • The ability to hold any type of food, whether it be hot, cold, solid or liquid.
  • A wide range of products are available including: bags, cutlery, plates and boxes.
  • The material breaks down in the composting process.
  • More positive public relations in promoting and using bio-degradable packaging as it is seen to be environmental friendly.
  • If marketed properly, the use of this material could capture more recycling. Whereas previously the packaging could have been contaminated by organic waste, and would have to be sent to landfill. Cleaning the material to remove any food residue would be impractical to householders stopping them putting their packaging into our recycling collection service. By being able to compost both the packing and the organic waste together through the same process could divert more packaging from landfill.

Cons

  • Poor promotion of bio-degradable packaging can increase litter levels. Public perception could be that it is acceptable to throw unwanted packaging on the floor as it will ‘degrade’ away.
  • A question mark remains on whether bio-degradable packaging is sustainable. Can any item that is made to be disposable ultimately be sustainable? 
  • It can make recycling slightly more complicated for the householder. There would be a need for greater public awareness, e.g. do they place the disposable cutlery in the dry recycling or Kitchen food waste bin?
  • Non bio-degradable packaging, such as plastic cups, can be recycled into something else. Bio-degradable packing will just break down into compost.
  • If bio-degradable packaging is sent to landfill, it breaks down anaerobically which releases methane.
  • There are ethical questions about the sustainability of the source of raw material that produces bio-degradable packaging. Plantations to grow the raw material have been taking over areas of natural rainforest in some developing countries. With the corn or palm being more economically viable than the rainforest.
  • Unsuitable for long term storage.
  • Lack of guidelines as to what is truly bio-degradable. A product that could take 100 years to breakdown can still claim to be bio-degradable.
  • The correct environmental conditions are required to enable the material to degrade. Newspapers are still legible after decades in landfill, as in order to degrade they must have the right conditions. (Many items are already bio-degradable, but it’s the environment that determines whether the item will actually break down or not).
  • Bio-degradable packaging is generally more expensive to purchase than the equivalent traditional non bio-degradable option.

15.        On balance, bio-degradable packaging is a better environment choice than traditional 'oil based' products, though factors like storage times and price could be significant.

16.        The Council's catering service (Strategic Planning and Performance Division) is making a concerted effort to increase the range of bio-degradable products used.  Their packaging and product statistics are detailed at Appendix A.  They are already using a large number of these products but due to price and the competitive market in which they operate, will find it difficult to change all their outstanding products.  To do this would cost an additional £2,286.  Officers have however indicated that they will continue in their efforts to increase the range of bio-degradable products used.

17.        It would be possible to encourage local businesses to use more bio-degradable packaging though as a Council we have no powers to enforce such a product change.  Also, there would be little direct benefit to the Council of doing so.

18.        The latest LEAMS Report has already been referred to, which identified smoking related litter as our most significant waste problem in the Vale.  Perhaps education and awareness campaigns aimed at addressing this would be more relevant at this time.

19.        In addition, the use of bio-degradable packaging does not stop littering and whilst in the longer term the material will do less harm to the environment, in the short to medium term the packaging when discarded is litter.  Most fast food outlets are either in, or close to, town centres.  Our legal duties to address cleanliness in such areas mean that the litter would be collected in under 7 days and sometimes within 24 hours.  Furthermore, it would be impossible for our street cleaning crews to separate the bio-degradable waste from the non bio-degradable and therefore all this waste would be sent to landfill.

20.        Guidance on the use of Planning Conditions is contained in Circular 35/95 (Welsh Office).  This states that conditions have to be reasonable and enforceable and, importantly, relevant to planning. The circular states that authorities should ask themselves the question - ‘would planning permission have to be refused if the requirements of the condition were not imposed?’.  In this case, therefore we would need to ask, if we could not restrict packaging to biodegradable packaging, should permission be refused for the use of the premises as a takeaway.

21.        In this regard the specific nature of packaging of food sold is not a planning matter. What is a planning matter is whether the sale of food is acceptable.  Any condition imposed to seek to restrict packaging to a certain type is therefore likely to be unreasonable and 'ultra vires' under planning legislation.

22.        Whilst it is accepted that inappropriately discarded fast food packaging is blight, it is considered that the Council would receive more value by promoting greater awareness of the offence of littering, whether this be smoking related litter, or fast food packaging.  To supplement this we could place specific information concerning good waste management practices, e.g. waste minimisation and recycling on our web site.  Access to this information could be assisted by using our networks within Regulatory Services (Trading Standards) and our web information could be signposted at low cost on suitable literature to traders.

23.        It would be inappropriate for us as a Council to provide specific details of bio-degradable packaging suppliers, though we could provide comprehensive general information which would make it easier for traders to source appropriate products and suppliers.

24.        It is therefore proposed that our web site be updated to feature information and advice on food packaging for traders with appropriate links to organisations, such as the Environment Agency, where further details can be obtained.

25.        It is further proposed that the Council's catering services (Learning and Development Directorate) continue with their efforts to reduce non bio-degradable packaging though that this be only where such changes are affordable.

26.        In addition it is suggested that officers give further consideration to the details of the LEAMS Report 2010 / 2011 and establish whether education and awareness campaigns could be utilised to better address the specific littering problems that have been identified within the report for the Vale of Glamorgan.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment and Climate Change, if appropriate)

27.        The resources to update the web site and to provide details of any web links to traders via letters will be met from within existing waste management and cleansing budgets.

28.        The use of bio-degradable products reduces the affects of packaging waste on the environment and therefore any increase in use should reduce the risk of climate change.

29.        The costs of changing all the Council's catering packaging to bio-degradable materials is cost prohibitive at the moment.  Though its use will be increased over time and subject to this not placing an unrealistic demand on the overall service budget.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

30.        The EU Directive 94/62/EC was implemented in the UK in the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007and the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2003 (SI 2003 No 1941). Requirements specific to the recoverable nature of packaging under the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2003 are:

  • Packaging must be manufactured in such a way as to enable the recycling of a certain percentage of weight of the materials used into the manufacture of marketable products, in compliance with current standards in the Community. The establishment of this percentage may vary, depending on the type of material of which the packaging is composed.
  • Packaging waste processed for the purpose of energy recovery shall have a minimum inferior calorific value to allow optimisation of energy recovery.
  • Packaging waste processed for the purpose of composting shall be of such a bio-degradable nature that it should not hinder the separate collection and the composting process or activity into which it is introduced.
  • Bio-degradable packaging waste shall be of such a nature that it is capable of undergoing physical, chemical, thermal or biological decomposition such that most of the finished compost ultimately decomposes into carbon dioxide, biomass and water.

31.        These legal liabilities on packaging unfortunately relate to the point of manufacture and not the point of sale.  While there is no legal requirement to use any specific type of packaging, many larger food retailers are starting to promote the use of more environmentally friendly packaging.

32.        Section 87 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 makes it an offence to 'litter'. The offence being: "If anyone throws down, drops or otherwise deposits in, into or from any place to which this section 87 applies, and leaves any thing whatsoever in such circumstances as to cause, or contribute to, or tend to lead to, the defacement by litter of any place they shall be guilty of an offence".

Crime and Disorder Implications

33.        Details on the legislation relating to littering are provided above.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

34.        There are no Equal Opportunity implications.

Corporate/Service Objectives

35.        It is a Corporate Priority to:

Work with partners to develop a sustainable community which maximises opportunities for economic growth, social improvement and environmental regeneration and protection.

 

Improvement Objective:

To protect and enhance the Vale's natural and built environment.

Policy Framework and Budget

36.        This is within the policy framework and budget.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

37.        None.

Background Papers

How Clean are our Streets - All Wales Local Environmental Audit and Management Systems Report 2010 / 2011.

 

Contact Officer

Clifford Parish, Operational Manager for Waste Management and Cleansing

Tel No:  02929 673 220

 

Officers Consulted

Accountant, Building and Visible Services

Operational Manager, Legal Services

Head of Public Protection

Head of Strategic Planning and Performance

 

Responsible Officer:

Rob Quick, Director of Environmental and Economic Regeneration

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