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'Biodegradable is expensive' Takeaways fear another higher cost amid plans to ban single-use plastics

More should be done to help companies to switch from using single-use plastic products to biodegradable ones, according to Welsh business owners. It comes after Welsh Government introduced a draft plan for a law banning or restricting the sale of some of the most commonly littered single-use plastics in Wales.

The bill will see single-use plastics like polystyrene takeaway containers, plastic straws and single-use plastic bags prohibited in the country. The draft bill will be laid before the Senedd this autumn, as the Welsh Government presses ahead with its intention first revealed in 2020 to abolish more single-use plastics.

How the ban will be enforced has not yet been confirmed. But the draft legislation suggests that anyone selling the banned plastics in the future could be fined and local authorities will have the power to carry out test purchases and raid premises. You can read more about this here.

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In response to the government's announcement, the independent Welsh businesses that we spoke to said they had already begun the transition from using plastic products to biodegradable ones. However, they shared concerns about the price difference between the materials during a time of increasing cost pressures.

Lance Pardoe is one of the owners of Upland Diners in Swansea. Having served the people of Uplands for nearly 31 years, the restaurant went online only during the coronavirus pandemic. As Covid restrictions eased, the business reopened once again with a smaller seating area but still a strong online presence for their takeaway service.

According to Lance, for more than two years now, the business has been using biodegradable containers rather than polystyrene ones. Although the manager believes the government's draft bill is a good idea, he fears that biodegradable products are "quite expensive".

"It has cost us a lot of money to be able to go biodegradable," he explained. "Our knives, forks, takeaway cups and containers are all biodegradable - even our ice cream tubs are biodegradable. It’s much better and hopefully by forcing people to do it, the demand will be more and the cost will go lower. At the moment, it’s quite expensive. It had gone down a little bit, since Covid it’s shot up now. And obviously, a lot of it comes from China and Poland - so it went through the roof during Covid, it was £15-20 per box."

According to Uplands Diner's manager and joint owner, Lance Pardoe, the business has been using biodegradable containers rather than polystyrene ones for a number of years now (Gayle Marsh)

He added: "A lot of takeaway businesses are still using plastic containers rather than biodegradable ones. Once it’s law - you’ve got to keep it, there is no option. But until then, certain people will carry on using plastic because it is cheaper. To be honest, it was a culture shock for me when we changed, and I did think - how are we going to carry on with the cost of it? But now that we are used to it, it’s fine.

"With a cost of living crisis on our hands, we are paying six times as much as we were paying for electricity a year ago. We’ve had to make cutbacks in other places now. Previously, the material of our packaging was the last thing we thought about, but now businesses will have to consider this. Hopefully the demand will be bigger and the prices will go lower."

Ben Thomas of The Dough Thrower pizza restaurant in Cardiff has "mixed emotions" about the announcement. Like Lance at Uplands Diner, he has been switching from plastic to more environmentally-friendly material, such as biodegradable containers and cardboard.

But even at that, Ben fears that the announcement has come at a challenging time for many businesses. He said: "I've found that getting these biodegradable products are really difficult to find. On top of that, their prices are higher than plastic.

The Dough Thrower opposite Victoria Park in Canton, Cardiff is one of the most popular restaurants to have a dine-in or takeout pizza in the city (WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

"I understand the human side of it - being sustainable is so important, but for the business side of it, I think we are going to see a lot of businesses struggling. The industry has been hit hard by Covid, and for the businesses that survived we've had to adapt, now faced with a cost of living crisis we have to adapt again for a number of reasons.

"If they've got a process in place that will help businesses, then that will be fine. We need the support during the transition because this isn't just going to impact businesses but consumers as well, it might reshape the way we offer affordable takeaway services."

Sam Humphreys from Fish Kitchen 1854 in Maesycwmmer agrees. Like Lance at Uplands Diner, she has also been doing the switch over to biodegradable products since the Welsh Government announced their intention to ban single-use plastics two years ago.

Although Sam believes it is a good idea to ban some single-use plastics, she added that more should be done to help businesses in Wales during the transition of using single-use plastics to biodegradable products.

"This has been coming in for a while - over in England, they’ve already done it," Sam said. "When we opened our shop back in 2018, as a business, we were concerned about sustainability. We don’t really like using single-use plastics anyway.

"We only ever use paper, cardboard boxes, we also use bio-boxes that are biodegradable. We also use wooden forks. Where we can, we’ve tried, but the only single-use plastic we haven’t made a switch on is the polystyrene cups for the curries and gravies. Because the truth of the fact is that it is a good product to keep things warm, they reduce spills in comparison to the cardboard ones."

In recent months, statistics have shown that half of fish and chip shops in the UK could go out of business amid an increase in costs and tariffs. A tariff on all seafood imported from Russia has had a devastating impact on the industry.

Samantha 'Sam' Humphreys and her husband Lee are the owners of Fish Kitchen 1854 in Maesycwmmer (Mark Lewis)

On top of this, the price of a meal at a fish and chip shop could be set to increase form an average of £8.50 to £11.50 across the UK. Up to 5,000 fish and chip shops could close their doors for good from British high streets and seaside towns.

It is a very challenging time for fish and chip shops for a number of reasons, Sam agrees, but she's concerned that implementing a rule on banning some single-use plastic amid rising costs could be a "nail in the coffin" for some businesses in Wales.

She said: "The problem that most businesses have now is that all of our costs have risen - we as a business then, we priced the cups the other day in comparison to the biodegradable ones, and they are nearly four-five times as much in price. It makes a difference.

"As we have done it to all our other arranges, this is the last thing to go really. But with everything going up, fish and chip shops have been particularly hit hard by the price of oil, the prices have gone ridiculous and a lot of us are struggling. This is just another little nail in the coffin.

"There should be a help, it has just come at a time where a lot of businesses are facing financial difficulties. They were bringing this in before Covid, but obviously Covid happened and it has been delayed, we were trying our best to stay away from single-use plastics.

"But with businesses and margins being tight now, I think a lot of businesses are going to struggle. I think it’s a good idea - our ethos here is sustainability, but the cost is ridiculous, there should be something in place to help suppliers."

In response to these businesses' concerns, a Welsh Government spokesperson explained that they would offer guidance to help people to make changes. The spokesperson said: "Building a greener Wales requires a team effort. Everyone can make lifestyle changes to play their part in tackling the climate and nature emergencies through saying no to the single-use item culture and choosing re-usable products.

"Our legislation will be supported by clear communication and guidance to help people across Wales to make this change. We also continue to work with industry, businesses, third sector bodies, academia and others to help develop future policies."

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