Biodegradable & Compostable Michael Stephen Column

Flooding caused by Plastic, Indonesia, French Consumers against compostable plastics and TotalEnergies Corbion (FREE)

Today Michael talks about flooding caused by plastic; action against plastic waste in Indonesia; French consumers against “compostable” plastic; and the decision by Corbion not to build a new PLA bioplastics plant. This is a FREE article

Plastic pollution aggravates flood risks,

This is the conclusion of a new report commissioned by Tearfund and produced by Resource Futures. It says that “As climate change makes rainfall events more intense and frequent, plastic pollution is blocking drainage systems in poor urban areas, posing danger to communities living in flood-risk areas.

In 1988 it was reported that plastic bags blocking waterways in Bangladesh contributed to devastating flooding, with two-thirds of the country submerged.

Tearfund, says: “Around the world, from Brazil to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, from Malawi to Bangladesh, we see plastic pollution making floods worse. It is the poorest communities who are bearing the brunt of the plastics crisis.”

These are tragedies which should have been averted, not by banning plastic products, which are essential for modern life, and particularly for the poorest people, but by requiring all packaging and other short-life plastic products to be made with oxo-biodegradable technology.

This technology has been commercially available for 20 years, and if it had been more widely adopted most of this plastic would have biodegraded and been removed from the environment long ago, leaving no microplastics or ecotoxicity.  See  The UN plastics treaty must make oxo-biodegradable plastic mandatory.


I hear that the Partnership for Plastics in Indonesian Society (PISCES) is setting up Living Labs to curb plastic pollution. Starting with Banyuwangi, East Java, the first Living Lab will identify the most abundant plastic litter in the region and educate locals on its damage while finding means of reduction.

The team will develop ways to shift away from single-use plastic packaging such as dry food sachets, plastic bags and takeaway food containers to reusable, refillable or returnable packaging. PISCES says that since Banyuwangi has no rubbish collection service, the team will focus on finding efficient ways to collect, sort and process plastic waste and look for plastic alternatives.

This is all very well, but in a country the size of Indonesia their efforts will make no real difference for a very long time – if ever.

However, the Indonesian government could make a real difference in a matter of months, by legislating to ban all short-life plastic products unless they are biodegradable in the open environment according to ASTM D6954 – as the UAE and other countries in the Middle East have already done.

The type of plastic marketed as “compostable” according to ASTM D6400 or EN13432 is not suitable, as it has to be collected and taken to a composting facility see – the problem in Indonesia is plastic which has escaped into the open environment, from which it cannot realistically be collected for composting, recycling, or anything else.


A French consumer group UFC-Que Choisir has warned that so-called ‘compostable’ plastic does not help limit pollution as much as people have been led to believe.  They said consumers should be aware that plastic dubbed ‘compostable’ will not biodegrade outside of compost heaps or of “precise industrial conditions” and still constitutes pollution if discarded on beaches or in the woods, for example.

“Faced with this major pollution problem, compostable plastic packaging seemed to be a good idea at first,” it said. “But in reality, it’s not that simple.”

The group referred to the French agency for ecological transition, Ademe, which said: “Plastic, even a compostable kind, is still plastic.” and “Choosing compostable plastic packaging is not a solution to the environmental pollution caused by plastics.”

They added that “compostable” plastic emits carbon dioxide or methane when it degrades, and that both of these are powerful greenhouse gases.  Also, “compostable plastic does not have any fertilisation value for plants.”


I saw a press release on 7th June that Corbion will not build a new PLA bioplastics plant in Grandpuits, France, through its TotalEnergies Corbion PLA joint venture. This announcement follows Corbion’s review of the investment case.

Perhaps the Directors of these companies are beginning to realise that plastic marketed as compostable is an expensive fiasco, which is kept alive only by a massive PR and marketing campaign.. 

They will have noticed that on 2nd December 2022 the UK Minister for the Environment said: “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.”   “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.”

On 14th November 2022 the Minister said that “evidence suggests that these materials are often stripped out at the start of the process and landfilled or incinerated”

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

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

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