Agriculture Michael Stephen Column PLA

Despatches from the war against plastic: Plastic Haters, Corruption in the EU Parliament, Agricultural Mulch-film; and PLA (FREE)

Today Michael talks about The Plastic-haters; Corruption in the EU Parliament; Agricultural Mulch-film; and PLA. This is a FREE article


Most of the NGOs and political campaigners against plastic have lost sight of the reason for public concern about plastic.The reason is that if plastic products escape into the environment as litter they fragment into microplastics when exposed to sunlight, and can lie or float around for decades, but this problem has been solved by the invention of oxo-biodegradable plastic technology such as d2w.  See  Why Biodegradable? The fact that plastics are made from fossil-fuels is not the problem, because they are made from a by-product of oil-refining which use to be wasted, and this by-product will remain available for so long as the world needs oil for fuels and lubricants.  Much better to use this resource than to use land, water, and energy to grow crops to make plastic.Moving away from plastic to other materials such as paper is actually damaging for the environment.  See Life Cycle Assessment of Biodegradable, Compostable and Conventional Bags   and Comparison of Environmental Impact of Plastic, Paper and Cloth Bags (


MEPs’ integrity vote skirts binding anti-corruption reforms

MEPs on 13th July  passed another integrity resolution on the European Parliament that is unlikely to have any practical effect.The non-binding resolution, tabled by centre-right Slovak Vladimír Bilčík and French liberal Nathalie Loiseau, is among a series of similar declarations passed by the European Parliament to counter corruption since the eruption of the scandal last December when Belgian police raided the homes of MEPs and found suticases suffed with cash.”There is no point in passing a bunch of non-binding resolutions on your own institution, when you could unilaterally change your own institution’s rules right now and they just haven’t done it,” responded Nick Aiossa, deputy director of Transparency International EU.I have never been able to understand how the EU Parliament managed to include in the SUP Directive a ban on oxo-degradable plastic without any dossier from the European Chemicals Agency showing that the material presented any risk to human health or the environment.


11 Jul 2023 — Researchers have revealed that plastic mulch used to boost strawberry growth leaves behind large amounts of material fragments in the soil. Findings from the study are likely to apply to worldwide plastic use in agricultural production.A team of scientists from California Polytechnic State University, US, surveyed strawberry fields in the state after the seasonal film removal which covers the plants. The researchers discovered up to 213,500 pieces of microplastics – particles larger than 5mm across – per hectare on field surfaces alone. They also found that plastic pollution reduced soil moisture, microbial activity and plant-available nitrogen, essential for soil health and crop productivity.However, “Plastics, and plastic mulches in particular, are vital to maintaining agricultural production. They are used for various purposes, including soil moisture retention, soil warming/cooling and weed or pest control. Agricultural plastic use is increasing worldwide, with California being the largest user of agricultural plastic in the USA,”Farmers have three alternatives:

  1. Ordinary plastic. After the harvest, many hectares of soiled plastic have to be hauled off the fields and disposed of. As they have been exposed to sunlight for many months they will probably have become brittle and unsuitable for recycling, and will scatter fragments in the wind while being removed. Even if they are still suitable, it is expensive and environmentally damaging to transport this material along country lanes in large vehicles, and to wash and reprocess the plastic, so it makes no sense in economic or environmental terms. It cannot be burned, so the farmer has to bury it somewhere on the farm.
  2. Bio-based plastic.  This is much more expensive, and tears more easily, and cannot be recycled. It cannot be programmed to be serviceable for the length of time required by the farmer.
  3. Oxo-biodegradable plastic.  This is as strong as ordinary plastic and costs little or no more to produce. By adjusting the balance between actives and stabilisers in the masterbatch it can be programmed to be serviceable for the length of time required by the farmer.  After the harvest it will have become biodegradable and can be ploughed into the field, where it will be a source of carbon for next year’s plants. Symphony have done successful trials on a farm in Wales with film made with their d2w masterbatch PEMBROKE MULCHING FILM TRIAL


Biodegradable but Dangerous: The Hidden Environmental Hazards of Sugar Cane Plastic Says the author of a recent report from the University of Gothenburg “We see that PLA is not harmless to fish, so it should not be sold as an environmentally friendly alternative to ordinary plastic.”Fish were fed for six months with food containing 2 percent PLA, which is about the concentration of ordinary petrochemical plastic used in previous studies. In addition, there was also a control group of perch fed with uncontaminated food.Reference: “Chronic poly(l-lactide) (PLA)- microplastic ingestion affects social behavior of juvenile European perch (Perca fluviatilis)” by Azora König Kardgar, 12 April 2023, Science of The Total EnvironmentDOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.163425

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 from 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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