Biodegradable & Compostable EU Michael Stephen Column

Corruption in the EU, Not so Compostable and Cry for Help (FREE)

Today Michael talks about corruption in the EU, Not so Compostable and Cry for help. This is a FREE article.


I was not entirely surprised to see this week that a Vice-President of the European Parliament had been arrested for corruption, and that the homes and hotels of 18 MEPs and officials had been searched by the police, yielding suitcases stuffed with banknotes.

The reason I was not surprised is that I have never been able to understand how it was possible to impose a ban on “oxo-degradable” plastic products (by Art. 5 of the Single-use plastics Directive 2019/904) without any dossier from the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) showing any justification for such a ban.  To make matters worse, the Commission had actually asked ECHA (under Art 69 of the REACH Regulation) to study whether these products created microplastics.  ECHA received hundreds of pages of evidence but were then instructed to terminate the study.

The Parliament and Council then proceeded to legislate, and ignored all the safeguards against arbitrary legislation provided by Arts. 69-73 of REACH.   In October 2018 I received an e-mail from the leader of the scientific team at ECHA saying that they had not been convinced that microplastics were formed.

Could it be that there was some corrupt influence behind the scenes? Surely not, but I think the Belgian police should investigate.  They could start by reading the article by the editor of Bioplastics News on the campaign against oxo-biodegradable plastic by large German and Italian bio-based plastics companies. See The Anti Oxo History

According to The Sunday Times (18.12.22) “In Roberta Metsola’s attempt to blame a few bad apples, critics see a failure to address a fundamental problem: the extent to which the parliament, which wields real legislative power, is open to manipulation by lobbyists.”

The loser here is Europe’s environment, because ordinary plastic is still being used to make products which get into the open environment every day, where they will lie or float around for decades. They should be made with oxo-biodegradable plastic, which will biodegrade much more quickly and will not leave harmful residues.

This ridiculous, and possibly corrupt, ban needs to be urgently dealt with by the Commission making it clear that it does not apply to oxo-biodegradable (as distinct from oxo-degradable) plastic.


In the UK Parliament the Government have been asked what assessment they have made of the compostability of plastics certified as home compostable.  On 2nd December 2022 the Environment Minister Lord Benyon replied: “The Government consider that compostable plastics must be treated in industrial composting facilities to be broken down and, when processed incorrectly, can be a source of microplastics and contaminate recycling streams.  Therefore, our focus will be on reducing unnecessary consumption and working towards a circular economy, not composting of plastics.”

Further, “HM Government notes the findings from UCL’s study into the home composting of plastics. The study has shown that home composting is not a viable destination for managing plastic waste.”

On 14th November 2022 the Minister said “HM Government is not currently providing any specific support for the development of compostable potato starch bag packaging and have not evaluated the commercial viability of using compostable potato starch bag packaging by government agencies.”

“Currently there is insufficient industrial composting capacity throughout England to manage compostable plastics at end of life and our call for evidence suggests these materials are often stripped out at the start of the process and landfilled or incinerated.”

 “This packaging also does not contribute to a circular economy in the same way as packaging that can be reused or recycled into new packaging or products do, as compostable plastic packaging is generally intended to be used once.”

 So why do the Co-op continue to charge their customers for “compostable” bags, when they know, or ought to know, that the plastic they are marketing as compostable:

1.            Does not convert into compost (EN13432 and ASTMD6400 require it to convert into C02 gas)

2.            Is designed for a deliberate linear process and is not circular.  The material is intended to be wasted by conversion into CO2.

3.            Cannot be re-used, recycled, or made from recyclate

4.            Leaves microplastics in the compost and in the open environment  Biodegradable plastic particles in finished compost

5.            Does not deal with the problem of plastic litter in the

6.            Is not wanted by industrial composters and local authorities. See Composting


“European policymakers must act fast and decisively to protect and expand the region’s bioplastics industry” according to Stefan Barot, chairman of European Bioplastics (EUBP) at its Annual Conference.  It seems to me that this is typical of the mercantilist approach to business in the EU.

In my view, producers of inferior products which cannot succeed on their merits should make the products better or stop producing them. They should not expect governments to help them.

Mr. Barot asked the customer’s rhetorical question “How can I design my product with a low carbon footprint to make my packaging reusable or find the best end-of-life option? For the beginning of life, bio-based plastics offer a great solution because they allow for a substantial reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the start.”

This is dubious, and does not address the whole Life-cycle.  See Life Cycle Assessment of Biodegradable, Compostable and Conventional Bags in which the bio-based bag had the worst performance in 10 of the 11 environmental impact categories.  Also, wasting plastic by turning it into CO2 in a composting facility is not the best end-of-life option, and is certainly not circular.

He continued “Packaging designed for the protection of food, which, after its use, is contaminated with food, can be designed for composting or the conversion into biogas, resulting in a significantly lower GHG footprint.”  The problem with this is that it does not convert into compost and does not have a significantly lower GHG footprint – see above and
EU Talking About Biodegradable Plastic and Compostable Plastics

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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