Agriculture Michael Stephen Column Plastic Treaty Politics & Legislation

Agricultural Film and Global Plastic Treaty (FREE)

Today Michael talks about agricultural films and Global Plastic Treaty. This is a FREE article.

Agricultural Film

I have been reading an article in “Nature Communications” by some researchers in Zurich who say “Using biodegradable instead of conventional plastics in agricultural applications promises to help overcome plastic pollution of agricultural soils.

I would agree with that, and recall taking part in some successful trials of d2w mulch film on a farm in Wales Pembroke Mulch Film Trial Report

The Zurich researchers say that analytical limitations impede the understanding of plastic biodegradation in soils, and have found that they can use carbon 13 isotopes to quantify mineralization to 13CO2 during soil incubations and, thereafter, to determine non-mineralized material remaining in the soil. 

This is what the Oxomar researchers in France did in 2021 with d2w oxo-biodegradable plastic.  Their conclusion was “The biodegradation of 13C-Oxo-LDPE and 12C-Oxo-LDPE showed positive results, as the Rhodococcus bacterium was able to growth on both materials. The use of 13C labelled polymers confirms the biodegradation and the ultimate mineralization of such material. A substantial incorporation of 13C from polymer was recorded in the COproduced by the bacteria and collected during experimentation.”

Global Plastic Treaty

As we all know, the UN is promoting a global plastics treaty.  Some organizations like Greenpeace are demanding a “strong” global plastics treaty that matches the scale of the plastic crisis. The biggest challenge to an ambitious plastics treaty, they say, will be some governments, and the lobby of companies that they call “big oil,” who will try to weaken this ambition.

I think however that the biggest challenge will be lobbying by zealots like Greenpeace, who seem to have an almost visceral hatred of plastic, and wish to deprive as many people as possible of their plastic products.

There is a “plastic crisis” not because plastic is found as litter – paper and other materials are also found as litter – but because it will not biodegrade rapidly and will lie or float around for decades.  If this problem could be solved there would be no need to ban short-life plastic products – which are vital to protect food and water from contamination and wastage and for many other applications  -especially for the poorest members of society. 

The problem can be solved, by using d2w technology, but I suspect that this would have no effect on the anti-plastic ideology of some NGOs, who do not want the wheels to come off their bandwagon. They would continue to claim that it does not biodegrade, that it contains heavy metals, and that it produces persistent microplastics – which it does not.

Plastic is not being banned because it is made from fossil-resources. In fact it is made from a by-product of refining oil for fuels which used to be wasted – so, until the day arrives – if ever- when fossil fuels are no longer required, it makes sense to use this by-product instead of using scarce land and water resources (and fossil fuels) to grow and polymerise crops to make “bio-based” plastic.

Recovering and recycling all plastic waste in the near or even the foreseeable future is simply not realistic, so unless the technology behind the manufacture of short-life plastic products changes, “sticking-plasters” in the form of recycling or awareness-raising campaigns, and refillable containers won’t resolve this issue. Plastic will continue to accumulate in the oceans, either in its original form or as microplastics, and the anti-plastic NGOs will still be in business and attracting massive amounts of money to their funds.

Short-life plastic products must themselves be made sustainable by design. The UN must promote technologies which act as a safeguard, so that if plastic does end up in the environment it causes as little harm as possible. 

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

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