The term "biodegradable" has been used over the past few years, to describe plastics or packaging that could potentially be metabolized by microorganisms in nature, with complete breakdown to CO2/Methane, water and biomass. However, there is significant confusion and controversy surrounding biodegradable plastics since many suppliers have used the term to loosely describe their material/packaging without specifying the conditions under which the material would degrade in nature. For instance, some plastics (like PLA) will only degrade under industrial composting conditions, while some others (like PHA) can break down under a wider range of conditions and environments (industrial, backyard, marine). Given this widespread confusion and the misuse of the "biodegradable" term, many global government and industry organizations have issued guidelines to restrict or eliminate the unqualified use of biodegradable as a descriptor of plastics or packaging. These include the European Commission guidelines (European Plastics Strategy) and the Federal Trade Commission Green Guides in the US.
In line with such guidelines, Ubuntoo's recommends that companies providing biodegradable materials, products or packaging:
1.Avoid unqualified use of the term "biodegradable" to describe their products
2.Any claim of biodegradability should be accompanied by a description of specific conditions and environments under which the material or product will undergo degradation in nature
3.It is strongly recommended that companies provide globally accepted certifications or testing for various biodegradability claims (such as the BPA certification for industrial composting)
Further in line with the position articulated by the European Commission as well as major CPG companies, Ubuntoo recommends that "biodegradable" plastics should not be considered a solution for littering (or worse a license to litter). Appropriate collection and end-of-life solutions (such as industrial composting or home composting) need to be put into place to avoid biodegradable plastics ending up as litter in the environment.
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In Taiwan, the first stage of an Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) ban on single-use plastic straws is set to go into force on July 1, 2019.
In this context, a group of Taiwanese entrepreneurs developed a Plant Fiber Straw at the Central Taiwan Innovation Campus. They have now obtained the patent for the mass production of their straw for drinks made from sugarcane fiber (which is a farm waste), and is not only a natural source for the material but is also biodegradable. The founder and inventor Huang Chien-chung (黃千鐘) mentioned that the straws developed can decompose up to 90% in about 180 days under the following conditions:
Sufficient moisture (relative humidity above 90%)
Sufficient oxygen (non-closed environment)
Appropriate temperature (58-70 degrees C)
Based in the Zhongxing Xincun section of the campus, the company began researching plant fibers as replacements for plastics last year. Sugarcane fiber, coffee grounds and bamboo fiber are the wastes they mainly used in production of not only straws but cutlery now. In addition to developing straws made from plant fibers, the company is also working with a French winery on developing products made from grape waste and wheat chaff.
The philosophy of 100% ZHI (which means plastic free in English) is to turn wasted natural resources into eco-friendly materials used in the production of plastic-free products, and reduce the consumption of new resources. Their concept is in accordance with the goals 12-14 of SDGs 17 issued by the UN, and the prospect is to minimize the waste in industries to achieve zero waste.