Michael Stephen Column

Plastiphobia, Singapore, Compostable Plastics, Doorknobs and Carbios

Michael Stephen, an international expert on bioplastics, shares his thoughts and opinion on important issues impacting the bioplastics industry. Today, Michael writes about what is driving plastiphobia, modish fads, Singapore, compostable plastics, plastic doorknobs and Carbios.
Michael Stephen

What is driving Plastiphobia?

Listen to this really clear explanation of why the anti-plastic panic is hurting us. Click here to listen to the podcast

Modish fads

In an article in The Daily Telegraph on 8th March, Tom Welch points out that due to the Coronavirus epidemic “Other modish fads have been abandoned. Starbucks has now banned those re-usable cups we were all told were the future, in favour of disposable ones; with experts saying that controlling disease should be given greater priority than environmental concerns. Will plastic shopper bags make a comeback too? Hygiene has always been one of the arguments in their favour, given that people rarely wash the re-usable alternatives.”

Singapore Likes Oxo-Bio

A Green Label (no.067-010-3575) has been awarded for Oxo-biodegradable Plastic Products by the Singapore Environment Council, for carrier bags containing Symphony’s d2w masterbatch.

The Green Label Category for Oxo-biodegradable Plastic Products establishes grading criteria on environmental, health and performance parameters for plastic products that biodegrade in the open environment owing to the inclusion of a pro-degrading additive during manufacture. The standard includes product-specific environmental and health prerequisites, such as reduced eco-toxicity and toxicity to humans. See Link

The Singapore Green Label is a seal of endorsement of environmentally-friendly claims to prevent the abuse of green-washing. This has proved to be advantageous for Green Label certified products that have become more marketable and readily accepted by consumers or businesses when making a purchase.

The SEC is a member of the Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN). Comprising 25 other member countries from various parts of the world, GEN allows for SGLS endorsed products to be more recognised and accepted by other member countries of the Eco-labelling network.

“Compostable” Plastic

2020 has been a really bad year already for the “compostable” plastics industry. Remember that these plastics do not convert into compost – they convert into CO2 (EN13432 and ASTM D6400). Also they don’t solve the problem of plastic waste which has escaped into the environment, because you first have to collect them and take them to an industrial composting plant.

Worse still, the industrial composters and waste-managers don’t want them. First the composters of Oregon, then the City of Exeter, then the Suez waste management company. This was followed by a damning TV documentary from the Netherlands showing that “compostable” plastic is actually sent to landfill, (Documentary That Killed Compostable Plastics in the Netherlands ) and now the same story from the City of Toronto, Canada (The label says 100% compostable plastic. But it’s likely ending up in a landfill). People are already saying that “compostable” plastic is an expensive irrelevance, sustained only by aggressive marketing and by politicians who don’t have time to understand the issues, and that the industry really has no future despite all the money invested.

Plastic Doorknobs

Another article in the Daily Telegraph caught my attention – on 7th March by Sarah Knapton (How deadly is my doorknob? The science of coronavirus contamination). She says “Coughs and sneezes undoubtedly spread diseases, but … surface contamination has been found to be more significant than first thought, with some infectious agents surviving …. on plastic surfaces for up to 9 days.”

Prof. Gunter Kampf from the Greifswald University Hospital in Germany is reported as saying that “infections are often passed on in hospitals by touching call buttons, which are often made of metal or plastic. Outside of hospitals communal objects such as door knobs, telephones, worktops, keyboards, doorbells, and even chip and pin devices could be sources of infection, with low temperature and high air-humidity further increasing their lifespan.”

The Daily Telegraph’s Health Correspondent reported on the same day that Coronavirus could spread around buildings via air-conditioning systems after scientists found traces of the virus in a hospital air duct.

It is now becoming very obvious that all plastic items which people touch, and plastic ducting and water pipes, need to be made with the anti-microbial additive developed by Symphony Environmental Technologies Plc. I notice that a report on a visit to Symphony’s laboratory was shown on the CGTN Global News channel on 5th March. Apparently CGTN is China’s world TV service – broadcasting in English from studios in Beijing; London; Washington and Nairobi to a global audience of 200 million viewers in 133 countries!


In the 7th January edition of this column I explained why recycling of post-consumer plastics does not make economic or environmental sense.

Last week I noticed an article saying that a company called Carbios had developed technology which leverages enzymes that fully break down PET plastic waste and polyester fibres to produce consumer-grade, 100 percent recycled plastic.

“This is interesting” I thought. But then I wondered why anyone would want to invest a lot of money to do this – because their type of recycling suffers from most of the same disadvantages as mechanical recycling. You have first to collect the waste, then transport it (perhaps for long distances), sort it, clean it, bale it, transport it again and unbale, then depolymerise and repolymerise it. Apparently it takes about 10 hours to depolymerize 90 percent of the feedstock made of PET waste.

By the time you have done all this, how much time have you spent, and how much have you paid for labour, transport, and storage, how much have you paid for capital equipment, and how much fossil fuel have you burned?

And for what? Plastic is made from a by-product of oil which is extracted to make fuels, and would be extracted whether plastic existed or not, so why not use this very cheap and readily available by-product to make virgin plastic? No wonder that so much plastic collected for recycling gets dumped in the jungle (or at least it did until the Asian countries realised they were being exploited by rich countries who could afford to indulge themselves in environmental ideology).

All recycling processes suffer from the same problem – you first have to collect the waste – so recycling does nothing to deal with the main problem which causes so much public concern – the plastic waste which has escaped into the open environment. The only way to deal with this is to make the plastic with oxo-biodegradable technology, so that the waste will become biodegradable much more quickly than it otherwise would.

Michael Stephen

Michael Stephen is a lawyer and was a member of the United Kingdom Parliament, where he served on the Environment Select Committee.

When he left Parliament Symphony Environmental Technologies Plc. attracted his attention because of his interest in the environment.

He is now Deputy Chairman of Symphony, which is listed on the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange, and is the founder and Chairman of the Oxo-biodegradable Plastics Association.

Earlier Postings in this Column

Interview with Michael Stephen


The opinions expressed here by Michael Stephen and other columnists are their own, not those of Bioplasticsnews.com.

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