Bags Canada Michael Stephen Column Politics & Legislation

Paper and Canada refuses to exempt compostable bags from its SUP ban (FREE)

Today Michael talks about Paper Packaging; and the Canadian refusal to exempt bags described as “compostable” from its SUP ban. This is a FREE article


A report has been commissioned from the Profundo Research organisation by the Rethink Plastic Alliance, Zero Waste Europe, the European Environmental Bureau, Fern, and the Environmental Paper Network Paper-based food packaging at the centre of Europe’s waste crisis, new report reveals .

This Report confirms my view that plastic is still the best material for packaging LCA particularly if it is oxo-biodegradable and will not therefore lie or float around in the environment for decades.  See Why Biodegradable?

The Report says “As a reaction to the environmental and socio-economic impacts associated with plastics – paper-based packaging is increasingly marketed as a sustainable alternative. Evidence shows however that paper-based substitutes present many new as well as familiar challenges, furthermore paper is nearly always combined with plastics and chemical coatings.”

“Paper-based packaging in the food and beverage sector presents multiple challenges throughout its lifecycle, including the impact of the pulp and packaging industries on climate change, biodiversity loss, water stress and deforestation; the challenge of managing growing levels of paper waste (often contaminated by food and grease) including in on-the-go settings; the difficulty in recycling paper-based composites which integrate plastics and other materials; and the extensive use of hazardous chemicals – many of which may migrate into food and end up in our bodies – by the paper packaging industry.”

“Around 90% of paper pulp is made from wood, and paper production is responsible for about 35% of all clear-felled trees – every year 3 billion trees are cut down globally for paper-based packaging.”

“The country providing the most paper and pulp to the EU is Brazil – providing more to Europe than the region’s biggest producers – Sweden and Finland. In the last two decades Brazil has tripled its pulp production, now covering an area of 7.2 million hectares (twice the surface of Belgium). Eucalyptus and pine plantations in Brazil are exacerbating water scarcity, forest fires and biodiversity loss.”

“Within Europe, Finnish forests have become a net emitter of carbon dioxide due to overlogging,  and 76% of Finnish forest habitats are classified as threatened. The capacity of Swedish forests to capture CO2 has been reduced by 5 million tonnes as result of over exploitation. Lichen has decreased by 70% since 1950 threatening biodiversity and the livelihood of indigenous reindeer herders.”

“The pulp and paper industry is the world’s third largest consumer of water – the production of just one A4 sheet of paper requires around 10 litres of water. The industry is also the world’s fifth largest consumer of energy, and the International Energy Agency (IEA) states that the pulp and paper industry is not on track to reach its climate goals, being responsible for about 190 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2021.”

“Overall, little more than half of the paper and board produced use recovered fibre. The remainder are made of virgin fibres. In theory, paper and cardboard can be recycled around eight times but on average European paper fibres are only recycled 3.5 times. Recycling processes cannot cope with more than 3-10% non-pulpable (or non-paper) materials. For food and beverage packaging, the level and quality of recycling is inhibited by coatings and composites, which hamper recycling processes. One study showed that in 74% of tested samples, plastics were more recyclable than paper composite alternatives.”

“Chemicals are widely used throughout the production of paper-based packaging. Out of the 608 substances of concern found in food packaging, 256 (42%) are used in paper and board packaging materials. These are chemicals known to, among others, be persistent, cause cancer and disturb the human reproductive and hormonal system. Importantly, many toxic chemicals may migrate from food packaging and thus become a significant source of contamination in food and eventually the consumer’s body. Analysis of paper-based take-away packaging and tableware in Europe showed that 32 out of 42 tested items had been deliberately treated with PFAS chemicals – including many labelled as biodegradable or compostable.”

“Marketing single-use paper-based products as sustainable alternatives to plastics is misleading citizens and policy makers.”


I think the Canadian Government is right to refuse to exempt shopping bags described as “compostable” from its ban on single-use products due to come into force in December.

Some retailers had argued that bags made from PLA/PBAT were not plastic, but this is not correct.

The government said “compostable” checkout bags could end up in the wild, and when these bags become litter, they pose a threat to wildlife and the environment just like conventional plastic checkout bags.”

The NGO, Canadian Environmental Defence, worried about what would happen if “compostable” bags and containers were diverted to the green bin system. “Imagine if we just replaced all these bags with so-called compostables. They would overflow all our organics programs, and we wouldn’t have any room for actual organics,” “In the end, we would not have healthy, good soil amendment.”

I agree with this.  There is no role for plastics of any kind in the composting process. Garden waste and food waste are compostable because they convert into compost, but plastics described as composable do not. In a composting facility they convert according to ASTM D6400 and EN13432 into CO2 gas, and are essentially useless.  See Composting

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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