On 20th March I went to Luxembourg to observe the hearing by five judges in the General Court of the EU of a legal challenge by Symphony Environmental Technologies Plc to Art 5 of the Single Use Plastics Directive.
The case was defended by the Commission, the Parliament, and the Council, and I was astonished by their sheer arrogance. They claimed that their legislative discretion was so wide that they could do almost anything they pleased, and that they could even violate EU law because in this case according to them the superior norms of European law, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights, gave no protection to individuals or companies.
The case was brought because the part of Art 5 relating to “oxo-degradable” plastics was the result of an amendment to the draft Directive in the Environment Committee of the EU Parliament, to impose a ban without waiting for a report from the European Chemicals Agency who were making a scientific study. The arrogant institutions claimed that they were under no obligation to pay any attention to the EU’s own scientific experts!
It appeared to me that the Council, and the Parliament in Plenary, had not considered the scientific evidence at all, and had just rubber-stamped the decision of the Environment Committee.
I was not therefore surprised to read the extensive coverage of wrongdoing in the European Parliament in the following publications around the world:
Proposals in December to stamp out corruption at the European Parliament have been progressively watered down, according to the Left party. Manon Aubry, co-president of the group, told reporters in Strasbourg on 14 February that decisions being made behind closed doors aim to bury pro-transparency efforts in the wake of Qatargate.
An article appeared in The Tribune on 17th March 2023 by the distinguished journalist T.K. Arun. He says “Do not ban plastic. The costs are too high for society, and in particular for the less well-off. Instead invest heavily in technologies to degrade plastic not already amenable to biodegradation.
The problem of pollution is real, but the solution is not to ban plastic. Plastic is useful in ways that are beyond enumerating.
Consider a street vendor who sells vegetables and fruits, a shopkeeper in less well-off localities who sells a variety of goods from food to cosmetics packed in plastic pouches and sachets, household articles used by the poor ranging from footwear and toys to figurines of divinity – plastic is ubiquitous.
it might be argued that not all plastic is proposed to be banned only single use plastic is being banned right now but this begs the question how is this a real solution to the problem of plastic? The response is a pragmatic shrug of the shoulders “we must begin somewhere and reduce plastic use to the extent we can” This is the kind of pragmatism which results in the ridiculous demand that shoppers should use cloth bags to carry home numerous items of grocery each one of which is packed in plastic.
Already technology exists to make some kinds of plastic biodegradable. Polyolefins – a term used to describe both polyethylene and polypropylene in different forms can be rendered degradable at speed by adding a chemical additive called d2w which make polyolefins bio-degradable in the presence of oxygen. These have been in use around the world for around four decades, but in India use is caught up in a tussle over standards and testing.
It takes roughly two years to demonstrate biodegradability whereas companies need faster certification. Another problem is that the industry is finding that the standard specification by the Bureau of Indian standards for the breakdown of plastic molecules is faulty according to them, because it excludes the first-phase breakdown. They
want the government to use a standard test that is used in other parts of the world such as ASTM D6954 until the dispute over the Indian standard is rectified. These are industry demands that can be entertained now, without any dire immediate threat to human health or well-being.
According to the Fraser Institute in Canada, the federal government’s own analysis acknowledges, banning single-use plastics will actually increase waste generation, not reduce it. While the ban will remove 1.5 million tonnes of plastics from 2023 to 2032, it will almost double that tonnage in substitutes such as paper, wood and aluminum over the same period. That’s right: because of the ban the amount of garbage will go up in Canada.
To make matters worse, according to the government’s Strategic Environmental Assessment, plastic substitutes “typically have higher climate change impacts,” including higher greenhouse gases (GHG) and lower air quality. According to multiple studies, single-use plastic substitutes such as paper require more energy to transport, are more likely to cause smog formation and ozone depletion, require more water and energy to be produced and result in higher GHG emissions. Simply put, the plastic ban harms, not helps, the environment.
And that’s not all. According to Ottawa’s own estimates, the ban will save $616 million in clean-up expenses over the next 10 years but will cost around $2 billion over the same period in enforcement, management of the additional waste discussed above and forgone profit opportunities for manufacturers. In other words, the ban’s costs are three times its benefits.
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
Interview with Michael Stephen
Questions and Answers on OXO-Biodegradability
The opinions expressed here by Michael Stephen and other columnists are their own, not those of Bioplasticsnews.com