LCA Michael Stephen Column

No Alternative for Plastic (FREE)

Michael Stephen, an international expert on bioplastics, shares his thoughts and opinion on important issues impacting the bioplastics industry. Today, Michael says it is essential to upgrade plastic so that it won't persist in the environment for decades - there is no alternative for environmentally-responsible companies. This is a FREE article.

Life-cycle Assessments show that plastic is the best material for protecting our food from contamination, and for preventing food waste and disease. Life Cycle Assessment of Oxo-biodegradable, Compostable and Conventional Bags

For an environmentally-responsible company there is no alternative to upgrading its plastic with d2w technology tested according to British Standard 8472 or American Standard D6954, so that it will not lie or float around for decades if it gets into the open environment, and will not leave microplastics or any form of toxicity.

COMPOSTABLE plastic is not actually compostable or renewable, and composters do not want it. See  Composters reject it

CONVENTIONAL plastic creates microplastics, and can persist in the environment for 100 years.

PAPER – Isn’t it better to use paper bags instead of plastic bags?

No.  A statement from Exeter City Council in January 2020 said Paper “is often touted as the solution to all our plastic woes, but it just isn’t.  This is just another example of making a problem worse by trying to make it better…or trying to look like you’re trying to make it better.  Paper production and transportation is incredibly fuel- and energy- and water-intensive – much more so than thin plastic. It tends to result in the deforestation of old wood that is often replaced by a non-native monoculture, severely inhibiting the biodiversity essential for life on earth.”

Planting trees is a really good thing; but cutting down forests is a different matter. We need more trees, not more new ones and fewer old ones.  Why do they use old wood? Because it has nice long fibres. Think about all the fuel used in cutting down trees and hauling them. All the water and energy and chemicals used in pulping, bleaching, drying, cutting, and transporting.

The embedded carbon and environmental damage in a paper bag is significant.  So paper is not a solution to plastic. It may rot quicker in nature, but the harm it does before it gets there can be considerably higher than that caused by plastic.

The Life-cycle Assessment by Intertek, published by the UK Government in February 2011 Life Cycle Assessment of Oxo-biodegradable, Compostable and Conventional Bags   found that “The paper bag has to be used four or more times to reduce its global warming potential to below that of the conventional HDPE plastic bag, but was significantly worse than the conventional HDPE bag for human toxicity and terrestrial ecotoxicity due to the effect of paper production. However, it is unlikely the paper bag can be regularly reused the required number of times due to its low durability.

  • The process of making paper bags causes 70% more atmospheric pollution than plastic bags. 
  • Paper bags use 300% more energy to produce, and the process uses huge amounts of water and creates very unpleasant organic waste. When they degrade they emit methane and carbon dioxide.
  • If you compare the use of resources in manufacturing paper compared with plastic, in water usage alone, the cost is much higher given that fresh water is a resource that is in short supply in many regions of the world.
  • A stack of 1,000 new plastic carrier bags would be around 2 inches high, but a stack of 1,000 new paper grocery bags could be around 2 feet high.  For every seven trucks to deliver paper bags, only one truck is needed for the same amount of plastic bags, creating much less transport pollution and road congestion. 2,000 plastic retail bags weigh 30 pounds, while 2,000 paper grocery bags weigh 280 pounds. Additionally it takes 91% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper. Plastic bags generate 80% less waste than paper bags.
  • Also, because paper bags are not as strong as plastic, people may use two or three bags inside each other.  Paper bags cannot normally be re-used, and will disintegrate if wet.

RECYCLING is not an alternative, because whether we like it or not, a significant amount of plastic packaging will escape into the open environment, from which it cannot realistically be collected.  If it did not escape, we would not be seeing the massive public concern about plastic which we see in the media every day.

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

All articles of Michael Stephen can be found here

Interview with Michael Stephen


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

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