Michael Stephen Column

Recyclass, Unilever, UK Plastic Packaging Tax (FREE)

Today Michael talks about Recyclass, Unilever and the UK Plastic Packaging Tax. This is a FREE article


I have been reading the “Recyclass Design Book” June 2022.

On page 10 it says “Flakes are melted and mixed during extrusion, to obtain plastic pellets. At this stage, certain components can degrade the quality of the output material. These include polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC) which contain chlorine that reacts with recycling temperatures, causing degradation, or bio- and oxo-degradable materials (PLA, PHA, starch) that promote breakage and lower the recyclate quality.”

They are right about bio materials (PLA, PHA, starch) which will certainly lower the recyclate quality, and should not be encouraged by anyone who believes in recycling plastics, but I don’t know what they mean by “oxo-degradable materials.”

“Oxo-degradation” is defined by CEN (the European Standards authority) in TR15351 as “degradation identified as resulting from oxidative cleavage of macromolecules.”  This describes ordinary plastics, which abiotically degrade by oxidation in the open environment and create microplastics, but do not become biodegradable except over a very long period of time.  These materials will sometimes have components with prodegradant effects but the materials are not normally excluded from recycling streams.

“Oxo-biodegradation is defined by CEN as “degradation resulting from oxidative and cell-mediated phenomena, either simultaneously or successively.”  Oxo-biodegradable plastics such as d2w are made with prodegradant additives, but there is no reason why they should be excluded from a recycling stream See Recycling


According to an article in Packaging Insights on 24th June, Unilever has worked to derail and circumvent legislation limiting the use of single-use plastic sachets in developing nations, despite publicly decrying their harm to the environment and pledging a complete phase-out, according to a recent Reuters investigation.

An environmental group “A Plastic Planet” says 855 billion plastic sachets are sold annually – “enough to cover the entire surface of Earth.” However, Unilever points to the powerful protection that plastic sachets provide for products.

I rather agree with Unilever that plastic sachets provide powerful protection, especially for drinking water, in the developing world. They are better than bottles because they cannot be refilled and contaminated. Unilever should therefore continue to resist bans on these very useful products.

Plastic sachets are so small and of such low value that it makes no sense in economic or environmental terms to recycle them.  The only problem is that if they escape as litter they will persist in the environment for a very long time, so they need to be made with d2w biodegradable technology. Unilever should engage with Symphony Environmental to get this done as a matter of urgency.

UK Plastic Packaging Tax

UK food packaging businesses are being forced to pay a tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content, but this is a requirement they cannot comply with, and the financial penalties incurred will force them to push additional costs onto consumers.  This is something which ought to worry Boris Johnson, as cost-of-living increases caused by DEFRA will lose him even more elections.

The tax is unrealistic because most of the recycled plastic is not suitable for food contact, and food-grade recyclate is not sufficiently available anywhere in the world.  Businesses are therefore having to pay the tax and pushing price increases onto consumers.

Paper is not really an alternative.  It is a difficult material to package food with for all sorts of reasons, mostly because it loses its strength if it gets wet.  Also it doesn’t create a barrier unless it’s got a coating, and it won’t seal to itself.

The tax arose out of an obsession with a “circular economy” at DEFRA.  Recycling makes a lot of sense for some waste materials, and even for some types of plastic, but not all  See Recycling

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 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 Bioplasticsnews.com.

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