Michael Stephen Column

Defra and Plastics in Agriculture (FREE)

Today Michael talks about Defra and plastics in agriculture. This is a FREE article.


Readers of this column will recall that the UK Dept for the Environment (DEFRA) said in their response to their 2019 consultation on Standards for Bio-based, Biodegradable and Compostable Plastics, 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 suspected that there was no such consensus, so I requested copies of all the submissions which DEFRA had received.  I have read all the responses, including the 134 documents which DEFRA refused to disclose until they were ordered to do so by the Information Commissioner.  It is clear from this that there was no such consensus and that DEFRA had misled Parliament.

In fact, most of the submissions give no evidence at all in response to Question 11 on “plastics containing prodegradant agents” but there was much more of a consensus for banning bio-based plastics – especially of the type marketed as “compostable.”

DEFRA are still withholding five of the responses, and on 15th August 2022 I was informed that the Information Commissioner had served a notice on DEFRA requiring it to provide its submission and the withheld information within 30 days. I was also informed that if DEFRA fails to comply, it could be found in contempt of court.

I am 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 and/or ill-informed comment.

For the same reasons I have made a request under the Freedom of Information Act for copies of all the responses received by the Welsh Government to its consultation on Reducing single use plastics.


Researchers from Staffordshire University, UK, and Adana University, Turkey, have jointly conducted tests on soil found in the agricultural regions of Adana, where plastics are used for greenhouse covers, disposable irrigation pipes and other purposes.

Soil samples were taken from ten locations in the Adana/Karata region, and they found that microplastics emerging from agricultural practices could be damaging soil quality and potentially reducing crop production.

This is not surprising, because it is well known that after exposure to sunlight polymers will fragment into micro-plastics but they will not become biodegradable for decades.  The answer to this is to include a d2w masterbatch at manufacture, suitably stabilised for the service life which the farmer requires.  See Pembroke Mulch Film Trial Report

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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