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Compostable Plastics

In 2018 the UK Plastics Pact set a target to make all plastic packaging 100% recyclable, reusable, or compostable, and to eliminate all unnecessary single-use packaging by 2025. This declaration has resulted in a significant growth of the compostable plastics packaging sector with companies offering a vast range of packaging materials for single-use products that are not suited to recycling due to contamination, such as nappies, wipes, take-away food packaging and ready-meal trays. UCL citizen science research also shows a strong consumer demand for products that are marked as ‘biodegradable’ or ‘compostable’. However, compostable plastics need a working system of collection, sorting and processing if they are to deliver on their environmental promise. UCL’s research with industrial partners, policymakers and citizens shows that the UK currently has no working system for these materials. This three-year Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging project followed on from Designing-out Plastic Waste project, continuing the work of the Plastic Waste Innovation Hub.

Compost and packaging

Further Information

This project was led by Professor Mark Miodownik, with Professor Helen Hailes (UCL Chemistry) Professor John Ward (UCL Biochemical Engineering) and Jenny Bird (Public Policy Manager for UCL STEaPP), and a team of multidisciplinary postdoctoral researchers. The project had several aims. These were to measure the environmental impact and feasibility of processing large volumes of compostable plastics using industrial composting, anaerobic digestion facilities, and home compost facilities. The project also aimed to improve the effectiveness of industrial composting of biodegradable plastics by identifying key microbes present and developing suitable innocula to enhance breakdown capabilities. Work was also carried out to test the effectiveness and feasibility of automatic detection and sorting technologies for compostables within the existing waste collection facilities. Additionally, the project investigated the effect of packaging design and labelling on customer behaviour and make an evidence-based recommendation for a UK code of practice. Work was also carried out to review current products on the market to understand where compostable packaging could make a positive contribution to the UK and global sustainability targets. Lastly, the project also assessed current European and International standards and made evidence-based policy recommendations for the UK system design and regulation of a circular economy of compostable plastics.


Ayşe Lisa Allison

Doctoral Researcher - Behavioural Psychology

Gema Amaya Santos

Doctoral Researcher - Life Cycle Assessment

Esther Ambrose Dempster

Doctoral Researcher - Biochemistry

Charnett Chau

Research Fellow - Life Cycle Assessment

Luba Prout

Research Fellow - Biochemistry

Danielle Purkiss

Research Fellow - Design & Citizen Science

Gorjan Stojanovski

Research Fellow - Biochemistry

Nutcha Taneepanichskul

Doctoral Researcher - Mechanical Engineering

Fabiola Sciscione

Research Fellow - Biochemistry


This project was funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).


Purkiss et al. (2022). The Big Compost Experiment: Using citizen science to assess the impact and effectiveness of biodegradable and compostable plastics in UK home composting. Frontiers in Sustainability Volume 3 - 2022. View.

Allison et al. (2022). Barriers and Enablers to Food Waste Recycling: A Mixed Methods Study amongst UK Citizens. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2022, 19(5), 2729. View.

Allison et al. (2022). Improving compostable plastic disposal: An application of the Behaviour Change Wheel intervention development method. Front. Sustain., 18 August 2022 Sec. Waste Management Volume 3 - 2022. View.

Taneepanichskul et al. (2022). A Review of Sorting and Separating Technologies Suitable for Compostable and Biodegradable Plastic Packaging. Front. Sustain., 20 May 2022 Sec. Waste Management Volume 3 - 2022. View.

Taneepanichskul et al. (2023). Automatic identification and classification of compostable and biodegradable plastics using hyperspectral imaging. Front. Sustain., 14 March 2023Sec. Waste Management Volume 4 - 2023. View.

Sciscione et al. (2023). The performance and environmental impact of pro-oxidant additive containing plastics in the open unmanaged environment—a review of the evidence. R. Soc. Open Sci.10230089230089. View.

Chau et al. (2021). The environmental performance of protecting seedlings with plastic tree shelters for afforestation in temperate oceanic regions: A UK case study. Science of The Total Environment, Volume 791, 2021, 148239, ISSN 0048-9697. View.