Michael Stephen Column

Propensity to litter, Another compostable plastic ban, Canada supreme court, Bio-based plastics in Agriculture (FREE)

Today Michael writes about “Propensity to Litter;” Another City rejecting plastics marketed as “compostable;” an important decision by the Canadian Federal Courts; and Biodegradable mulch films in agriculture. This is a FREE article


I have heard all the arguments against oxo-biodegradable plastic at least a hundred times.  None of them have any real validity when you examine them carefully, but the one which strikes me as particularly weak is that “items labelled as ‘biodegradable’ may actually encourage people to litter.”

It is necessary to label the type of plastic marketed as compostable, because it cannot be recycled and has to be taken to an industrial composting facility, but there is no need to label plastic products as oxo-biodegradable.  This is because they are short-life items which are intended to be used and disposed of in the same way as ordinary plastic products, including recycling. 

Even if they had a label, it would be irrelevant to the plastic litter which escapes into the environment by accident eg blown by the wind from municipal waste collection and landfills.  There is some deliberate littering, but it is fanciful to suppose that the kind of person who throws a plastic bag out of a car window would check the label first to confirm that it is biodegradable. 

Let us hear no more of this absurd argument.


In this column on 30th October I noted that the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan USA will no longer accept plastic in its composting facilities.

This week I see that the city of Kamloops in Canada has also rejected them, saying that “the composting facility where the city’s kerbside organics go does not accept any compostable plastic bags because the plastic does not fully break down at the facility.  The plastic can contaminate the finished product and introduce microplastics into the soil system.”

“Some products are marketed as being made from plant-based material (i.e. corn starch), which sounds nice, but they are a bioplastic, which is still a form of plastic.”


On 16th November 2023 the Canadian Federal Court decided that the Government’s addition of all Plastic Manufactured Items to Schedule 1 to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), 1999, is both unreasonable and unconstitutional.

The court decision confirms that the risk assessment and risk management of substances must be conducted with the highest scientific rigour and not used as means to regulate substances which are not specifically assessed as posing unacceptable risks to human health and the environment.

This is exactly what we have been telling the European Commission and Parliament.  They ignored their own experts (ECHA) who were not convinced that microplastics are formed by oxo-biodegradable plastic, and this has led to a legal action against the EU Institutions in the General Court of the EU.


A scientific study by Wageningen University in the Netherlands has revealed findings about the longevity of “biodegradable” bioplastics in agricultural soils.

Soil samples taken from ditches surrounding agricultural fields showed a presence of approximately 3,000 microplastics per gram of sediment, signifying an accumulation of microplastics in the environment.  Researchers found some 48 different types of microplastics across the tested samples. Approximately 61% of the microplastics detected were fossil fuel-based, while the remaining 39% were bio-based.

The primary culprit was identified as plastic mulch, employed to warm the soil and inhibit weed growth. The study found that these “biodegradable” plastic mulches persist in soils beyond the industry-prescribed two-year degradation period.

The answer is for farmers to use oxo-biodegradable mulch films, which can be programmed to biodegrade on whatever timescale the farmer requires. See Successful farm trial for oxo film

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 Bioplasticsnews.com

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