Michael Stephen Column

Defra (FREE)

Michael Stephen, an international expert on bioplastics, shares his thoughts and opinion on important issues impacting the bioplastics industry. Today, Michael writes about Defra. This is a FREE article.

Regular readers of this column will know that the UK Environment Ministry (DEFRA) are very reluctant to disclose the submissions they received when they consulted the public on STANDARDS FOR BIO-BASED, BIODEGRADABLE, AND COMPOSTABLE PLASTICS.

I thought that DEFRA might have misled Parliament when they said in their response to the consultation that “There was a clear consensus in relation to plastics containing prodegradant agents aimed at aiding the biodegradation process, which was that such technologies are unproven and likely to be a source of microplastic pollution.”

I thought it unlikely that there was any such consensus, as the Oxomar Report from France has proved beyond doubt that these plastics do biodegrade in the marine environment much more efficiently than conventional plastics, and as the European Chemicals Agency after ten months study were not convinced that they create microplastics.

On 9th May 2021 I therefore requested disclosure of all the submissions, but received only 39 of them.  Of these only 4 could be said to give any support to DEFRA’s claim, and 3 were positively in favour of oxo-biodegradable plastic.  That did not seem to me like a “clear consensus.”  Of the 4 against, two were from the “compostable” plastics industry which seems desperate to exclude competition from oxo-biodegradable plastic.

I requested disclosure of all the remaining documents but received nothing.  I therefore appealed to the Information Commission under s.50 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and on 6th October 2021 they said that they had instructed DEFRA to give me a response within 10 working days.  I received nothing until 8th November when DEFRA admitted that there are a further 134 documents, covering 75 responses, that should have been sent to me, and these have now been received. They claim that this was an oversight, but I find this difficult to believe. It seems much more likely that there is a deliberate policy of obstruction at DEFRA, and the public needs to know why.  Even now DEFRA have made some very silly deletions.  For example, they have deleted the name of the Sustainability Manager of NatureWorks!

We will now read these 134 additional documents to find out whether any of them contain evidence, or whether they consist simply of commercially motivated assertions with no scientific basis, or consist of the kind of highly misleading “evidence” addressed to them by the BBIA. See Symphony Wins Battle of Words with Compostable Plastics Industry

I was not surprised to read in the Daily Telegraph that in the past five years the UK government have spent half a million pounds trying to block requests under the Freedom of Information Act.  Some Departments refused even to disclose their spending of public money, using the excuse tried and tested by bureaucrats that calculating the spending would cost too much!  

DEFRA are still withholding five submissions, so we will need to make a further appeal to the Information Commissioner if they do not disclose them.  We are insisting on full disclosure, because  if a policy decision is to be made, it is essential to ensure that it is based on sound science and is not just a response to lobbying.

There has clearly been a massive lobbying effort here by the commercial opponents of oxo-biodegradable plastic, and they have drafted in a lot of big names to try to put the government under pressure to ban this technology.  They make it appear that they are campaigning in the interests of the environment, but actually in their own commercial interests.  They have even financed the ostensibly independent charity, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Their lobbying has already succeeded with the European Union, and their chief lobbyist, David Newman, has even boasted about it on Linkedin.   This has resulted in a legal case in which the European Union is charged in its own courts with misusing its legislative power. See OPA Member Sues the EU

There must be something seriously wrong with the products of the bioplastics industry (see Composting ) if they are making all this effort to try to destroy a competitor, and this is a very good example of why governments must not allow themselves to be misled by lobbyists.  Are the chairmen of these bioplastics companies and lobby groups such as European Bioplastics and the BBIA not ashamed of their behaviour?

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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