Michael Stephen Column Microplastics & Nanoplastics

Microplastics, Environmental Footprints and Coffee Waste (FREE)

Today Michael talks about Microplastics, Environmental Footprints and Coffee Waste. This is a FREE article.


The EU Commission has just released a draft proposal on restricting intentionally-added microplastics from various packaging, cosmetics, sports pitches and other general materials.

The BPA had responded to the consultation  Response Consultation  as follows:

“There is an obvious gap in this consultation. A large proportion of the microplastics are not intentionally-added.  They are released into the environment from the embrittlement and erosion of ordinary plastic items (including man-made fibres in clothes) and these fragments of plastic can lie or float around in the environment for decades.

Efforts are being made by the public and private sectors to reduce the use of plastics, to re-use them, and to recycle them, but thousands of tons of conventional plastic items are still getting into the open environment and will continue to do so for some years into the future.

The EU should therefore decide as a matter of urgency to require all everyday plastic items (made with PE or PP) to be made with oxo-biodegradable technology, so that they will cease to be plastics and convert rapidly into a waxy substance which is biodegradable. There is no longer any doubt that they will do this much more quickly than a conventional plastic item would, and countries outside Europe have already made this mandatory after carefully auditing the technology.”

If collected before they degrade, these plastics can be safely recycled without separation https://www.biodeg.org/subjects-of-interest/recycling-2/

Environmental Footprints

On 1st September 2022 I read a report in “Packaging Insights” that Zero Waste Europe says “When it comes to packaging, EU policy focuses on collection and recycling and not on the overall environmental impact. In terms of emissions, single-use glass is the most carbon-intensive type of material per unit of product, and since the use of single-use glass is growing, so is the impact. The legislation basically says that it’s ok to increase emissions, as long as you recycle.”

Glass remains the most energy intensive material in the packaging industry.  Yes, recycling has gone up, but so has the environmental impact.”

An LCA by Intertek published by the UK Government in 2011 and a further LCA by Intertek in 2012 Life Cycle Assessments  found that ordinary plastic has a better LCA than the other materials used for packaging.  When the litter-metric is included d2w biodegradable plastic is even better.

Coffee Waste

I noticed on 30 Aug 2022 that a US company is introducing a new raw material for packaging, which combines a proprietary blend of discarded coffee waste with polylactic acid (PLA) to make a “compostable” polymer that is 35% cheaper than “all existing solutions.”

Using coffee waste is better than growing crops to make plastic, but it is still mixed with PLA, and perhaps also with oil-based material.  The PLA is usually made from food-crops such as corncassavasugarcane or sugar beet.

What is the point of this new material anyway – except to cash in on the environmental sensitivity of “Generation Z”?  It is tested to biodegrade in the special conditions found in an industrial composting unit – not in the open environment, and even there it does not convert into compost – it converts into CO2 gas – see EN13432.  This is not circular – it is waste.

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.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: