Michael Stephen Column

Despatches from the war on Plastics

Today Michael talks about Plastic that can be reclaimed by the Earth; Compostable Confusion; and Brands putting the brakes on bioplastics. This is a FREE article


I agree with the article in “Plastics Today,” saying “Don’t Ban Plastic — Rethink How it’s Designed and Make It Part of Our Ecosystem.” It said “most of our plastics are designed to do their primary task well, but if we invent a material that can last for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, we had best start looking at that long, long lifespan beyond its initial use.”“We already see this happening in the rise of compostable and biodegradable plastics. Instead of taking countless generations, these plastics can break down within a few years on their own.  So, what happens when most materials reach the end of their useful life? Landfills, dumps, hidden away from sight. Forgotten, but not gone.”“What if there was another way? What if, instead of seeing these materials as destined for the landfill, we envisioned their future without us — a future reclaimed by the Earth?”I would agree with that, and the way to make plastic so that it can be reclaimed by the Earth, is to make it oxo-biodegradable.  See https://www.biodeg.org/why-biodegradable/   


An article in Packaging Insights 12 Jul 2023 says that according to a recent study “US consumers are failing to correctly dispose of compostable packaging due to ineffective on-pack labels, even when they have home access to kerbside organic collections.”The study found that up to half of respondents are confused by look-alike packaging made of non-compostable materials and how to distinguish between packaging labelled “biodegradable” and “compostable.”  Nearly a third of respondents said they have incorrectly placed compostable packaging in the recycling bin, leading to material cross-contamination.In fact the industry which markets plastic as compostable has been deceiving consumers for years, by failing to advertise and label their product to make it clear that:

  1. It cannot be recycled
  2. It does not convert into compost – it converts into CO2 gas
  3. It is designed to biodegrade in a compost or AD facility – not in the open environment.

They have also been trying to persuade consumers and governments that their bio-based caddy-liners will encourage more processing of food-waste.  On the contrary, if householders think that they have to buy these expensive bags they will be less likely to send their food-waste for processing. Anyway the processors don’t want the bags.  See https://www.biodeg.org/subjects-of-interest/composting/ 

BRANDS PUT BRAKES ON BIOPLASTICS over biodiversity and recyclability concerns

On July 11 2023 Ethical Corporation Magazine reported that the penetration of bioplastics in the overall plastics industry remains minute, at around 1%. “Even a steady growth rate doesn’t mean we have much of a market,” says the organisation’s managing director, Hasso von Pogrell.“Bioplastics have attracted criticism for incentivising land-use change, as forests are cleared for feedstock production, and for confusing consumers and the waste industry over disposal. Also, the due diligence required by companies before they adopt bioplastics is high, and has contributed to a lack of take-up.”The sustainability specialist of Lego said that they thought it was only a matter of time until bioplastics had a prominent role in the plastics industry, and in Lego products. However, they had since realised that “If we, in the pursuit of reducing our carbon footprint, risk destroying local environments and jeopardising biodiversity, we need to have oversight of and be able to positively manage the consequences.”  Actually, companies are not reducing their carbon-footprint by moving away from plastic. See https://www.biodeg.org/subjects-of-interest/life-cycle-assessments/. The article continues that “Confusion over disposal options has also been an issue for the bioplastics industry. Some bioplastics are compatible with existing recycling streams, such as Bio-PET and Bio-PE. However, compostable bioplastics, in particular, are often accused of misleading or confusing the public, since they are compostable only under particular conditions found in industrial composters, for which infrastructure may be lacking.”  Also, consumers think that they convert into compost which is valuable as a soil improver, but they don’t.  They convert into CO2 gas.

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 Bioplasticsnews.com

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