Michael Stephen Column Plastic Bans

No Sufficient Evidence to Ban Plastic and Aimplas FAQ (FREE)

Today, Michael writes about no sufficient evidence to ban plastic, Aimplas FAQ. This is a FREE article


In one of Canada’s most consequential environmental court cases, a federal judge in Toronto has heard arguments from representatives of the plastics industry contesting a national ban on some single-use plastic products.

The ban affects plastic bags, straws, stirrers, and cutlery.  Some prohibitions have already taken effect while others won’t go into force until 2025. The legislation was pushed through by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party on the basis of a scientific assessment of plastic pollution published in 2020.

The companies in question — Dow Chemical Canada, Imperial Oil, and Nova Chemicals — along with the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan and the Responsible Plastics Use Coalition argue that the federal government has failed to provide scientific evidence to justify the regulations.  They say that the test for toxicity is not satisfied by proving that a single bottle cap poses a risk to a single animal.

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Commenting on the case Yahoo! Finance noted that the industry case looks compelling. “The important point is Ottawa’s manipulation of the definition of ‘toxic’ under the Environmental Protection Act. The corporations say the science behind the ban is flawed and ‘is not based on fact, data, measurement, or scientific study. It is based on estimates, and even these are outdated and do not originate in Canada. The Liberal cabinet, “cannot rely on a mere assertion.”

I entirely agree with this.  Bans on plastic products which are not supported by any or any sufficient scientific evidence are doing a lot of harm to the environment, as the environmental impact of many of the alternative materials is actually worse.  See Life Cycle Assessments

The only reason to single out plastic for a ban is that it can lie or float around for decades if it gets into the open environment, but this problem can be solved by making the plastic with d2w oxo-biodegradable technology.

Fortunately the Canadian government listened to Symphony Environmental (Opa to Minister ) and did not ban  the use of d2w technology – otherwise they would be facing another legal challenge.


On 10th March 2023 AIMPLAS posted online “What is the difference between biodegradable and compostable (plastic)?”  They said:

“to claim that a product is compostable, it must pass all the laboratory studies included in the EN13432 standard, which defined the general scheme of tests for packaging …… so with these definitions we can claim that compostable products are biodegradable.”

This is all very well, but describing plastic as “compostable” or “biodegradable” is aimed at consumers, and consumers are being misled.

Garden waste can properly be described as compostable because it biodegrades to produce compost, but plastic cannot be described as compostable because it does not produce compost – EN13432 requires it to biodegrade to produce CO2 gas.  This has no value for the soil and is a commercial deception of the public which has been going on for
many years and should be stopped. It would have been stopped long ago had those responsible for the deception not been large powerful companies.

Consumers are also deceived when plastic is described as biodegradable – unless it is designed to biodegrade in the open environment, not just in the special conditions found in a composting facility. The EU Commission said (30th November 2022 (COM(2022) 682 final)) that “plastics labelled as ‘biodegradable’ must always specify the receiving open environment for which they are intended and the required timeframe for their biodegradation, in terms of weeks, months or years.”

EN 13432 itself says, in para. 1 “This European standard makes provision for obtaining information on the processing of packaging in controlled waste treatment plants, but does not take into account packaging waste which may end up in the environment through uncontrolled means, i.e., as litter.”

Therefore, plastic certified according to EN13432 for biodegradation in an industrial composting facility (not in the open environment) should not be described as “biodegradable” and the Commission should take action against companies who are doing this.

AIMPLAS continue “It is important to mention that biodegradable and/or compostable products are not designed to be abandoned or dumped on the ground in the city, in the countryside and the environment, in water courses such as rivers and lakes or even in the sea. Under these conditions it is not possible to ensure biodegradation since it is only guaranteed under controlled composting conditions.”

This point, made by AIMPLAS, is the principal reason why the type of plastic marketed as “compostable” is essentially useless. The main problem, which causes concern all over the world, is the plastic which escapes the waste-management system and finds its way into the open environment, from which it is not going to be collected and sent to a composting facility.

Additionally, disposal of this type of plastic, by converting it to CO2 in a compost facility, is a linear process which is designed to waste the material. As the UK Environment Minister said on 2nd December 2022 “This packaging 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 only once.”

The EU Commission also said “in most of today’s biobased plastic products such as single-use packaging, the carbon initially taken up from the atmosphere is quickly released back” and “As biodegradable plastics are predominantly used in relatively short-lived applications such as food and beverage packaging, the resources used to produce these products are rapidly lost.”

The only possible use for this type of plastic is for taking kitchen waste to a composting or biogas facility but, as the UK Minister said on 14th November 2022 “our evidence suggests that these materials are often stripped out at the start of the process and landfilled or incinerated”

The Commission also say that “In most cases, the production of biomass requires the use of natural resources such as land and water and the use of chemicals such as fertilisers and pesticides. Therefore, producing plastics from primary biomass can lead to direct or indirect land-use change, which in turn can result in biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation, deforestation and water scarcity, as well as competition with crops intended for human consumption.”

The Commission also say that “More work is needed to assess and reduce the net greenhouse gas emissions of biobased plastics compared to their fossil-based equivalents, taking into account the lifetime of recycling applications and the possibility of multiple recycling.” Bio-based plastic cannot be recycled, and Life-cycle Assessments by Intertek show that ordinary plastic and oxo-biodegradable plastic have lower net greenhouse gas emissions than biobased plastics. Life Cycle Assessment

Ordinary plastic and oxo-biodegradable plastic are made from a by-product of oil and gas which are extracted for fuels. Until the day arrives when they are no longer needed for fuels, it makes sense to use the by-product, and there is no present need for biobased plastics, even if they were useful.

AIMPLAS say that “OK compost HOME certification ensures that these products can be composted under non-industrial conditions, being compostable at home.  However, a study by University College London (UCL), published in “Frontiers in Sustainability” on 3rd November 2022 says that calling plastic packages “home compostable” is a
greenwashing tactic designed to take advantage of consumer interest in environmental sustainability.

Further, on 2nd December 2022 the UK Environment Minister said “The Government notes the findings from the UCL study into the home composting of plastics.  The study has shown that home composting is not a viable destination for managing plastic waste.”

So, an essentially useless type of plastic is being bought by millions of consumers worldwide as the result of a massive deception, sustained over many years.  How long can this continue?

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

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