Biodegradable plastics: how do we engage with consumers and society?

Biodegradable plastics: how do we engage with consumers and society?

A lively discussion took place at our webinar on 21st May 2021, as a panel of experts shared their ideas on biodegradable plastics and how to engage with consumers and society. Over 200 people joined the online event from 37 countries around the world.

The webinar was organised by SAPEA, in partnership with the Royal Irish Academy, as part of a series of events drawing on the Evidence Review Report ‘Biodegradable plastics in the open environment’ and the associated Scientific Opinion by the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors.

You’ll find an overview of the webinar and discussions below, together with a recording of the event for those who were unable to attend or would like to watch again.


Professor Ole Petersen, Vice-President for Academia Europaea and Director of the Cardiff Hub, which coordinated the evidence review, opened and chaired the webinar. There was also a welcome message from Professor Brian Norton, Secretary for Policy & International Relations, Royal Irish Academy.

A summary of the key evidence and recommendations of the Evidence Review Report and Scientific Option was given by Alessandro Allegra, Policy Officer, European Commission’s Scientific Advice Mechanism, and members of the SAPEA Working Group for the report – Professor Wouter Poortinga, Professor of Environmental Psychology, Cardiff University, and Professor Tatiana Filatova, TU Delft.

This provided an introduction to the discussions that followed, highlighting key messages including the consumer confusion about both biodegradable plastics and the end-of-life destination for plastic products – whether reusable, recyclable, biodegradable or compostable.

Panel discussions

Professor Richard Thompson, Director of the Marine Institute at University of Plymouth and Member of the SAPEA Working Group, moderated the panel discussions and put a range of questions from the audience to the experts during the session.

Panel discussions were focused on three topics:

  • Professor Sabine Pahl, Professor of Urban and Environmental Psychology, University of Vienna, and Shane Timmons, Economic & Social Research Institute, discussed attitudes and behaviour change.

    They explored the importance of keeping key messages to the public simple and prioritising ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, and also reflected on the need to be open minded about how we approach the development of tools and approaches for behaviour change.
  • Professor Klaus Menrad, Professor of Marketing and Management of Biogenic Resources, University of Applied Sciences Weihenstephan-Triesdorf, and Samantha Fahy, Sustainability Manager, Dublin City University, looked at marketing and sustainability.

    Higher pricing was identified as a potential barrier to buying biodegradable products, as well as the reality that although most consumers want to do the ‘right thing’, there are other factors that may affect their decision-making. From a sustainability perspective, it was emphasised that the best thing we can do is discourage the extensive use of plastics in the first place.
  • The final topic was on policy related to biodegradable plastics, with panellists Silvia Forni, Policy Officer, European Commission’s Directorate-General for Environment and Dr Liam Carr, Environmental Geographer, NUI Galway.

    They discussed a new EC Policy Framework currently in development, which will include biodegradable plastics, and examples of policy application in Ireland – from formal education programmes, to empowering people at a local level to do their part in waste reduction.

Meet the artist

Throughout the webinar, images of artwork created by Heather Nunn were shared with the audience.

Professor Thompson praised Heather’s work, created using plastic litter, as a different and engaging way of communicating with the public on the topic of biodegradable plastics and the impact on the environment.  

Watch the webinar

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More about AE Cardiff’s work in Biodegradability of Plastics

Academia Europaea led the coordination of the SAPEA Evidence Review on the Biodegradability of Plastics in the Open Environment. Responsibility for management and delivery of the work was given to the AE Cardiff Hub. The SAPEA Evidence Review Report and the GCSA’S Scientific Opinion are available here.

27 May 2021. For further information please contact

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