Agriculture Canada Michael Stephen Column

Sustainable Agriculture, Canada, Consequence of Banning, United Nations (FREE)

Michael Stephen, an international expert on bioplastics, shares his thoughts and opinion on important issues impacting the bioplastics industry. Today, Michael writes about sustainable agriculture, Canada, the consequence of banning and the United Nations. This is a FREE article.

Sustainable Agriculture

I was interviewed on 3rd March for an international conference in Singapore on Sustainable Agricultural Film. You can watch it here:


I have responded on behalf of Symphony Environmental to the Government of Canada on their proposal to restrict Single-use Plastics.

Like every other sensible government, they know that they cannot ban mainstream plastics, so they are tinkering at the edges, by banning plastic checkout bags, plastic cutlery; foodservice-ware; ring-carriers; stir sticks, and straws.  They admit that these items constitute only 5% of the total plastic waste generated in Canada in 2019, so the proposed restrictions would make very little difference.

They are missing the opportunity to make a real difference to plastic pollution of their environment.

The justification for a ban is that the items will lie or float around for decades if they get into the open environment, and that some of the alternative materials would not. The government should instead take advantage of technology which is already available, and should require the items to be made so that they will quickly biodegrade if they get into the open environment, without leaving microplastics or toxic residues behind.

Some of the plastic escapes by accident and some is discarded by irresponsible people. It is unlikely that those people care whether the plastic is biodegradable or not, but even if a few of them do, that would not be a good reason to continue to allow conventional plastic, which is well known to create microplastics and to persist in the environment for many decades.

Following the Oxomar report there is no longer any doubt that d2w plastic does biodegrade in the marine environment much more quickly than conventional plastic. This was a three-year study, sponsored by the French government. To be quite sure, the scientists exposed a sample containing carbon 13 to bacteria, and they identified carbon 13 in the bacteria themselves – proving that the bacteria had bioassimilated the material. They are writing a further report on this.

The European Chemicals Agency was asked to study microplastics in 2018, and they issued a Call for Evidence to which many stakeholders responded. They also read the reports published by the European Commission, and after ten months (30.10.18) they said that they were not convinced that microplastics were formed by oxo-biodegradable plastic.  If the European Union’s own experts were not convinced, I don’t see how anyone else could be.

With regard to plastic checkout bags, a Life-cycle Assessment by Intertek for the UK government has shown that plastic is the best material for this purpose (see PDF report at the bottom of this article).

The only problem with plastic checkout bags is that if they get into the open environment as litter, they can persist for decades, but when Intertek included the litter metric they found that the LCA for d2w plastic bags is even better than for ordinary plastic (see PDF report at the bottom of this article).

See also LCA by Franklin Associates  (see PDF report at the bottom of this article)

I therefore think it would be wise for Canada to resist the demands of activists to ban plastic checkout bags.

With regard to the other items on the ban list, they have become popular because the public want to use them.  Plastic straws are for example preferable to paper ones.  There is no need to ban any of these items if they are made so that they will quickly biodegrade if they get into the open environment.

The Consequences of Banning

Governments should always interfere as little as possible with the freedom of citizens to make their own choices, but in recent years we have seen massive interference with freedoms, using environmental concerns as the justification.  Europe is now faced with a very serious crisis caused by banning coal, gas, and nuclear energy, on environmental grounds, and there will have to be a fundamental rethink everywhere of the policies urged upon governments by environmental activists who, until now, were always thought to be right.

The UN

Symphony Environmental made a statement on 4th March as follows:

“We applaud the decision taken at UNEA on 2nd March, to adopt a mandate for an International Negotiating Committee to develop a legally binding UN Treaty on plastic pollution.

We are willing to assist the Committee, but we have some concerns:

  1. That plastics should not be demonised. Plastic is one of the most useful materials ever invented, and it should not be set aside in favour of other materials, such as paper, cardboard, cloth, glass, or metal, whose performance and/or Life Cycle Assessment may not be as good.
  2. That plastic should not be sent to landfill.  It is a valuable resource and should be recycled; or if not suitable for recycling, should be converted into heat and/or electricity using clean thermal-recycling facilities.
  3. That recycling of plastics is useful, but may not always be the right option in economic or environmental terms, and is not an option at all unless the waste plastic has been collected.
  4. Similarly composting of plastic is not an option unless the waste plastic has been collected and taken to a composting facility. Even then, composting of plastic is not useful, because the end product is CO2 gas, not compost, and converting plastic into CO2 is not recovery – it is waste.
  5. That it makes little sense to use scarce land and water resources and fertilisers and pesticides to grow crops to make plastic, and to use fossil fuels to transport and polymerise them.
  6. That whether we like it or not, for the foreseeable future a significant amount of plastic will escape into the environment as litter, where it could lie or float around for decades.  The treaty should therefore mandate – for a wide range of consumer plastic products – the use of technology designed to make it rapidly biodegrade, if it gets into the open environment, leaving no toxins or microplastics. This technology is available here and now, at little or no extra cost, and has already been mandated by a number of UN member-states. 

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.

Download LCA by Intertek

Download LCA for d2w Plastic Bags

Franklin LCA

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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