Michael Stephen Column

Michael Laurier, A Saucy Problem and Unilever (FREE)

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

Michael Laurier

I was surprised to find last week that I had been nominated one of the top ten influencers in the plastics industry (Top 10 Influencers in the Bioplastics Industry 2021 (FREE))

However, I think the real visionary is Michael Laurier, CEO of Symphony Environmental Technologies Plc. Michael was in the packaging business, manufacturing and supplying ordinary plastic products, but he realised in the 1990s that useful as this material was, it could cause an environmental problem by lying or floating around for decades if it escaped into the open environment, before eventually biodegrading.

So he decided to work with Professor Gerald Scott, who had found a way to make plastic that would become rapidly biodegradable in the open environment without being collected and taken to a composting facility, and without creating microplastics. As a result, Symphony made available to the plastics industry worldwide a range of low-cost masterbatches (branded as d2w) which could be added to ordinary polyethylene and polypropylene at the extrusion stage to make it oxo-biodegradable. (It has this rather unusual name because it oxidises and then biodegrades). Symphony’s team now includes Radu Baciu and Perry Higgs, polymer scientists who have made an in-depth study of this technology, and who in my opinion have a better understanding of it than most other scientists.

This invention would have transformed the public perception of plastic overnight, as the only problem with plastic is its persistence in the environment.  However, it encountered a furious lobbying campaign from the bio-based plastics industry in pursuit of their own anti-competitive  interests without regard for the environment (The Anti Oxo History (FREE) and this has slowed the rate at which oxo-biodegradable  technology is being adopted.   

This lobbying campaign has caused a huge detriment to the environment because it has meant that ordinary plastic is still being used for most plastic products, and thousands of tons of it are escaping into the environment every year from which it cannot be recovered for recycling or anything else.  I have noticed however that more and more people are now realising that oxo-biodegradability is really the only way to reduce the long-term pollution of the environment by plastic, and in some countries in the Middle East it has already been made mandatory.

More recently Symphony has made another major contribution to the industry by inventing and bringing to the market a range of masterbatches which protect public health by making plastic lethal to bacteria, fungi, viruses, and insects, and with a wide range of other valuable properties  www.d2p.net

Under Michael Laurier’s leadership Symphony has become a public company, quoted on the London Stock Exchange with thousands of shareholders, and a presence in more than 90 countries around  the world.

A Saucy Problem

Almost every day now we hear from politicians and NGOs who want to ban something.  Apparently, there are people who want to ban the plastic sauce sachets which have become so familiar to us all.  These people have been described on UK television as “Sachet Fascists” who cannot resist trying to control us in every detail of our lives.  They are also targeting drinking straws, stirring sticks, checkout bags, and food containers.

Yes, the empty sachets are rarely recycled, but that is true for many other everyday items including gloves and face masks.  It is also true for paper, glass, cloth, or metal replacements that people wrongly assume are more environmentally friendly.  Why pick on the sauce sachets which are very popular, as they keep the sauce in excellent condition until opened, and are much more hygienic than a bottle handled by other people.

With the economy facing huge challenges, and a lot more important things to worry about, it is astonishing that the UK government and the EU are determined to waste time and money on demonising these useful little items.

The only problem with plastic items is that they can lie or float around for decades if they get into the open environment, but not if they are made with oxo-biodegradable plastic, which will degrade and biodegrade, on land or sea, much, much faster than regular plastic.  It does not create microplastics, and has been proved by the Oxomar study, sponsored by the French Government, to biodegrade even in the marine environment.

This is a drop-in technology, available right now, so it requires nothing more than political will to make a big difference to all single-use plastic items.  Don’t ban the plastic, just change it!


One of Britain’s best-known investors has attacked UNILEVER for what he calls its “ludicrous focus on sustainability.” Terry Smith, manager of the £29bn Fundsmith Equity fund, was reported by the Daily Telegraph on 12th January 2022 saying that “Management is obsessed with publicly displaying sustainability credentials at the expense of focusing on the fundamentals of the business. With major shareholders losing patience, the company’s do-goodery may have a short shelf life.”

I thought there was something odd about Unilever when I went to see them some years ago.  I was aware that a high proportion of the plastic packaging littering the environment had their brand  names on it, so I thought they would be interested in a low-cost technology which would make the plastic rapidly biodegrade.  I did not expect them to take my word for it.  I expected them to say “OK, let’s send our scientists down to talk with your scientists and find out whether the technology really works, without producing adverse consequences.”  Instead I was surprised to find a wall of hostility, and a refusal even to contemplate using it. 

They thought the solution was recycling, but how can you recycle something which escapes the waste-management system and ends up in the open environment?  If substantial quantities did not escape, there would be no public concern about plastic.

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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