Written Evidence submitted by Nature 2030 (SH0089)


About Nature 2030

  1. NATURE 2030 is an international coalition of businesses, politicians and campaigners, run on a pro-bono basis by Higginson Strategy, a purpose-led communications agency. 
  2. The campaign was created to rise to the challenge of tackling the global climate crisis. It brings together some of the foremost thinkers across business, politics and international activism including Ben Fogle, UN Patron of the Wilderness and Co-founder of Nature 2030; Sian Sutherland, leader of international campaign A Plastic Planet; and Robin Maynard, Director of Population Matters.
  3. The campaign has already had a string of successes influencing policy and shifting public awareness towards the green agenda. This includes lobbying for a deposit return scheme (DRS) in the UK and inputting into a clean air strategy for London.

Plastic as a primary stressor to soil health

  1. Nature 2030 is contributing to this Inquiry to highlight a major stressor to soil health, namely plastic pollution.
  2. There is now more plastic waste than ever before, with 2021 seeing 139 million tonnes being produced[i]. Yet a growing body of evidence shows that pollution from plastics is causing, globally, unprecedented environmental pollution and harm both human health and the natural environment.
  3. While the scourge of ocean plastics has received global attention, not least through David Attenborough’s ground breaking Blue Planet series, it is less well known that the Earth’s soils contain up to 23 times more plastic than its seas[ii].
  4. Moreover, the agriculture sector uses plastic products to improve productivity, resource efficiency and reduce food losses and waste. 12.5 million tonnes of plastic products are used in agricultural production annually[iii], but so far there has been little to no action to encourage more sustainable practices within the sector and avoid the pervasive negative consequences that are continually being revealed around plastic pollution.

Reform of agricultural practices

  1. A 2021 report[iv] by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, recommends replacing non-biodegradable conventional polymers in products such as mulch films with certified biodegradable alternatives, and substituting plastics manufactured from fossil fuels with those from bio-based feedstock.
  2. The UN report also highlights the sector’s use of plastic is disproportionately high and that farmlands used for crops represent just 8% of the world’s earth surface.
  3. To protect soil heath in the long-term, plastic pollution in farming must massively be scaled back. This can be achieved through improving collection and recycling services and promoting the substitution of plastic with biodegradable and compostable materials.



UN report: biodegradable substitutes for mulch films

  1. The UN[v] recommends replacing non-biodegradable conventional polymers with certified biodegradable polymers and substituting plastics manufactured from fossil fuel precursors with bio-based ones. Such films are regulated by reference to an international standard, EN 17033.  However, in a written answer to Derek Thomas MP on 27 January 2022, the government rejected that recommendation pending further research.[vi]


  1. As of 2018, only 17% of plastics used in terrestrial agricultural production were derived from bio-based precursors. The UN says biodegradable materials are a solution to many types of agri plastic, particularly, fishing gear (such as biodegradable dolly rope and closures). It also suggests a ban on non-biodegradable mulching films[vii]. The report additionally recommends an increase in research on the extent of the use of bio-based and biodegradable plastics, as well as on the behaviour and rate of degradation of biodegradable products in different environments.


  1. To further improve the sustainability of agri plastics, the UN recommends setting new standards for products used in the industry and associated equipment, as well as establishing legally mandated extended producer responsibility schemes. The UK is in the process of establishing such a system, which will see vendors take financial responsibility for collection and treatment of their material at the end of life.


  1. Finally, the report recommends introducing labelling of products to aid identification, monitoring, traceability and enforcement; and redesigning business models so that manufacturers or distributers of plastic products provide them as part of a service, rather than as a single transaction sale of goods.


UN report: broader issues

  1. At an international level the UN report recommends the development of a comprehensive voluntary code of conduct to cover all aspects of plastics throughout the agricultural and food system value chains and the extension of the scope of existing International Conventions (Basel Convention, MARPOL).


  1. An earlier UN report[viii], published in 2021, demonstrates that pollution of soil with plastics is an issue which stretches far beyond agriculture, with plastics from packaging also a key contaminant. As with mulch films, there are a wide range of biodegradable alternatives available which require regulatory support in order to replace conventional polluting plastics.


Biodegradable alternatives to conventional plastic

  1. There are various alternatives to traditional plastic mulching films, within the market. Please see below for a list of biodegradable solutions, namely:
    1. Biodegradable mulching films produced Polystar, HyTex, Mulch Organic, Novamont
    2. Nets – produced by Rom Plastica
    3. Tree wraps –Treebio, Bio-earth, Grown Green


Differences between compostable and biodegradable plastic

  1. It is important for the committee to note that while biodegradable items refer to just any material which breaks down and decomposes in the environment, compostable goods are specifically organic matter which breaks down.  In these instances, the end product having many beneficial uses which include fertilising and improving soil health.


  1. Most importantly compostable items do not leave any toxic residue behind because they are already organic. Unlike certified compostable products, certain ‘biodegradable’ products can take several years to break down and in some cases even leave toxic waste behind.


  1. Specifically geared towards mulch films, EN17033[ix] is the EU product standard that requires 90% of the bioplastic to biodegrade within 24 months of planting. It is also important to note that biodegradable plastics are not recyclable.


Cost implications

  1. The availability and feasibility of biodegradable mulch films was reported by the Welsh Government in 2018 to be severely limited.[x]. 


  1. Biodegradable mulch films are generally more expensive, with prices varying depending on availability in certain areas. However, the reduced need for post-recycling saves both time and money in disposing of the products after use, going some way to reduce counteract the increased cost. The amount that is offset also depends on location, with different waste management systems affecting the cost and labour needed to dispose of agricultural waste.


  1. If the UK government took steps to catalyse production at scale, that would reduce the unit price and entrench the use of such films as standard practice.


Managing the transition

  1. Many farms already operate close to the margin and a significant increase to costs could be ruinous for many smaller farms.
  2. In that light, the transition away from damaging, conventional plastic products needs to be made as smooth as possible for farmers.
  3. As part of the solution, there needs to be an adequate phasing-in period to ensure these additional costs are introduced for unprepared farms. In some areas this will also allow for increased accessibility for plastic alternatives by the time the restrictions are introduced.
  4. A phasing-in period alone will not make the switch viable for all farms. Nature 2030 suggests easing the extra cost burden by the introduction of subsidies to cover the cost difference between plastics and alternatives while production is scaled up.






  1. When observing the mounting evidence on the impact of plastic pollution and the significant contribution agricultural plastic has to play in this, it is clear that the sector must shift to phasing out traditional plastic use.
  2. Any phasing out of agricultural plastic materials must take into account industry and globally recognised standards for biodegradability and catalyse the market in alternative materials.
  3. Meanwhile a broader shift in public policy to ‘turn off the plastic tap’ is necessary to reduce leakage of other plastics into the natural environment, and onwards into soil.


February 2023




[i] https://cdn.minderoo.org/content/uploads/2023/02/04205527/Plastic-Waste-Makers-Index-2023.pdf

[ii] https://ec.europa.eu/research-and-innovation/en/horizon-magazine/soil-and-freshwater-come-under-spotlight-plastics-pollution-fight#:~:text=Yet%20terrestrial%20microplastics%20pollution%20may,over%20the%20past%20few%20years.

[iii] https://www.fao.org/3/cb7856en/cb7856en.pdf

[iv] https://www.fao.org/3/cb7856en/cb7856en.pdf

[v] https://www.fao.org/3/cb7856en/cb7856en.pdf

[vi] HC Deb, UIN 107661, tabled on 19 January 2022

[vii] https://www.fao.org/3/cb7856en/cb7856en.pdf

[viii] https://www.fao.org/3/cb4894en/online/src/html/chapter-03-4.html

[ix] https://www.european-bioplastics.org/new-eu-standard-for-biodegradable-mulch-films-in-agriculture-published/