Michael Stephen Column Politics & Legislation

Time to Ban Compostable Plastics? Also SUP Legislation in Wales and Scotland (FREE)

Today Michael thinks it's time to ban compostable plastics, and discusses SUP legislation in Wales and Scotland. This is a FREE article.


The French CITEO packaging organisation, a partner of the French government, says that in the current situation, PLA will be banned for food packaging in France as from 2030 because the industrial composters are unable and unwilling to accept “compostable” plastic in the composting process.

Also, a study published last week in “Frontiers in Sustainability” by researchers at University College London found that the majority of supposedly compostable plastics didn’t actually break down in home composting conditions.

“We just assumed that things like films, the really thin compostable wrappers or films that you get around magazines, would be composting really quickly because they’re so thin,” they said. “Even the thinnest, flimsiest stuff is still persistent in people’s compost over a really long timeframe. So that’s really not good news for any other packaging types.”

“Had the gardeners used the compost in their gardens, it would have contributed to microplastic pollution in soil — which lowers the health of the soil and resident organisms over time.”

What is the point of using an expensive “compostable” plastic bag to take food-waste to your compost pile anyway – why not use a bucket?

It’s not only in home-composting that “compostable” plastic doesn’t work.  It doesn’t work in industrial composting either.  A study by the University of Bayreuth https://www.chemeurope.com/en/news/1176729/  shows that “finished compost from composting plants contains a large number of biodegradable plastic particles. Also, that “applicable legal and certification Standards (EN13432, ASTM D6400 etc) are not violated by the sizes and quantities of the particles detected, so this calls into question the contribution of these standards to effective environmental protection.”

The team at UCL also found that the general public is often confused by the labels on supposedly compostable or biodegradable plastics. According to them “manufacturers need to clearly label the products and the best way to dispose of them.”

Yes, the description of any kind of plastic as “compostable” needs to be banned. Not only does the product not work, but even if it did the Standards require it to convert into CO2 gas, not into compost. Also, it is deceptive to call that type of plastic “biodegradable” because it is tested to biodegrade in the special conditions in an industrial composting facility – not in the open environment.

Also, governments and commentators should stop using the term “oxo-degradable.”  This is confusing because no manufacturer puts additives into plastics so that they will simply fragment.  This expression refers to ordinary plastic, which will rapidly fragment but does not become biodegradable for decades. However, manufacturers do put additives into plastics so that they will become rapidly biodegradable, and these should be correctly referred to as “oxo-biodegradable” plastics, as defined by CEN in TR15351, not as “oxo-degradable.”


I have read all the responses to the public consultation on the Welsh Single-use Plastics Bill, and have found  that they did not show any significant level of public support for any ban on “oxo-degradable” or “oxo-biodegradable” plastics.  There were 33 responses, and only 7 of them made any mention of this material at all. Four of them did not support a ban, and only 3 did support a ban.

I have also read all the responses to their earlier Consultation Document which they said had supported a ban on “oxo-biodegradable plastic.”  I found that the majority do not mention oxo-degradable or oxo-biodegradable plastic at all.

I thought it unlikely that the general public responding to the consultation would have any real understanding of oxo-biodegradable technology, and so it has proved.    In fact I have been surprised by the very high level of misunderstanding shown by those respondents who did mention oxo-degradable or oxo-biodegradable plastic.

Some responses reveal an emotional hatred of any kind of plastic, based on little or no understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of this material.

One respondent said “I don’t know what Oxo-degradable plastics means, but I’m assuming it breaks down into micro plastics which isn’t good for the environment.  Another admitted “I’m not qualified to comment on this subject.”

Another respondent said “The impact of this plastic on the environment is just awful. Images of animals feeding young with plastic pieces and masses of the stuff spilling out of their stomachs is truly heartbreaking. We MUST do something to stop this. We HAVE to make a change.”

Indeed we do.  This respondent is referring to the harm caused by ordinary plastic, and this is why Wales should replace it with oxo-biodegradable plastic, which is proved to biodegrade much more quickly instead of fragmenting and lying or floating around for decades, as ordinary plastic does.

Lawyers acting for Symphony Environmental have advised the Welsh Government that any attempt to ban oxo-biodegradable plastic would be challenged in the High Court.  This is because no evidence exists that it constitutes any threat to human health or the environment.

I have just heard that amendments have been tabled in the Welsh Parliament, not only to delete the proposed ban on “oxo-degradable” plastic, but also to exempt single-use plastics from any ban, if they are made with oxo-biodegradable technology as defined by CEN in TR15352.


I discovered that the Scottish Government had commissioned the James Hutton Institute to undertake analysis to demonstrate the environmental impact of oxo-biodegradable products, but it was not until 7th September 2022 that I became aware that the Institute had actually written a report in May 2022, and was allowed to see a copy of it.

This is only a literature review, but Symphony Environmental’s scientists have considered it in detail and are satisfied that it provides no basis for any ban on their d2w biodegradable plastic, nor oxo-biodegradable plastic in general.  Nevertheless, out of courtesy to the Scottish Government, and to the author of the Report, Symphony have provided them with their detailed comments.   There has as yet been no response.

Symphony’s Edinburgh lawyers have advised the Scottish Government that any attempt to ban oxo-biodegradable plastic would be challenged in the Court of Session.  This is because no evidence exists that it constitutes any threat to human health or the environment.

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

1 comment

  1. I very much agree with Michael Stephen’s comments on “compostable” plastics, as it has been shown that for a compostable to biodegrade it requires special conditions that are only found in an industrial composting facility and not in an open environment, which is where consumers expect plastic to biodegrade. Therefore this material is not a solution to the plastic problem as oxo-biodegradable plastics are. This topic should be taken into account by governments to issue their laws and not get carried away by the lobby of companies that do not want to lose their business at the expense of the good of the planet and humanity. And as a task for everyone, it is also important to make people aware of the difference between oxo-degradable and oxo-biodegradable plastic, since this lack of knowledge makes people believe that they are the same thing, which is not the case: It should be clear that oxo-degradable plastic is not something else than conventional plastic and that we should start to stop using this word.

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