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UK cartridge makers say end to lead and plastics in ammunition ‘impossible’ within five years

This week's announcement from shooting and rural organisations has sparked a strong reaction from four major shotgun cartridge manufacturers

major cartridge manufacturers

Monday’s call from fieldsports and shooting bodies for a move away from lead ammunition within five years has drawn criticism from leading shotgun cartridge manufacturers Eley Hawk, Gamebore, Hull Cartridge and Lyalvale Express, who accuse BASC and others involved of being ill-informed.

In a statement issued on Friday 28 February the four ammunition makers say that they were not approached to give any information and background before the announcement was made. They blast the organisations for only looking at a limited number of products and assuming that they provided a viable alternative to using lead and single-use plastics, when ‘this is not the case.’  The group says that at present there is no method of addressing plastic pollution except by using lead shot with fibre wads and disposing of used cartridges responsibly.

Steel shot shortage

The point is made that Europe currently has a shortage of steel shot and that a move away from lead will put more pressure on the market for raw material. Shortages will result and prices of steel shot increase.

Permissable loads higher outside UK

The statement says that citing examples of markets such as Denmark and the USA is not comparable as steel loads used in these countries use plastic cups. In addition, US and Danish regulations allow higher steel cartridge performance loads than the UK.

UK steel ammunition performance levels create tough challenges for manufacturers. The group comments: “We would like to see an increase in the performance levels allowed before we can begin to develop loads effective enough to produce clean, humane kills in the various types of shooting carried out in the UK.”

Tungsten and Bismuth are dismissed as options due to expense and limited availability. The group warns that shooters who cannot use steel in their shotguns will be faced with huge cost increases which may price many out of the sport.

It also points out that whilst there are a ‘handful of non-lead ammunition options with biodegradable wads currently on the market’ it is impossible to make them commercially viable at the current time.  BASC and its fellow organisations are criticised for making a stance and imposing a time limit without understanding the manufacturing processes.

Realistic time scale

The group says that although non-lead, non-plastic alternatives are being developed this is a long process, needing research, development and investment and it will be a long time before shooters benefit from a full range of options.

Acknowledgement is made that the shooting industry needs to become more environmentally aware but the cartridge makers warn it is unrealistic to expect the small shotgun ammunition industry to lead development. It points out that as larger industries continue to invest in developing plastic alternatives this knowledge will filter down to smaller industries such as theirs.

Cartridge options

The end of the statement summarises:

“We will continue to encourage the use of steel shot where required, but at this early stage we have no alternative option but to support the use of lead with fibre wads as the solution to the issues of plastic pollution. Where non-lead shot is needed, we encourage the shooters to collect their used plastic wads where possible and dispose of them accordingly.

“…We are committed to investing into the alternatives. Our collective goal is to develop high performance ammunition for all shotguns and gauges using sustainable materials and therefore secure the future of shooting. We simply ask that the organisations and individual shooters understand that doing this within a five year window without significant support is IMPOSSIBLE.”

Response from BASC

On 2nd March BASC responded to the statement from cartridge manufacturers by commenting:

“BASC understands the manufacturers’ concerns for their commercial interests as expressed in their statement on Friday 28th February.

“The cartridge manufacturers were consulted before the publication by the shooting organisations of their initial joint statement on the proposed five-year transition to sustainable, non-lead ammunition.

“Representatives of shooting organisations were in contact with cartridge manufacturers at meetings where that proposed joint statement by the shooting organisations was discussed. A copy of that statement was given to cartridge companies in advance and they had the opportunity to comment.

“BASC has always worked closely with cartridge manufacturers in delivering policy on ammunition and we will continue to do so. The shooting organisations are seeking an urgent meeting with the CEOs of the companies to agree the way forward.”