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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The National University of Singapore team had been looking for novel engineering applications to help reduce the negative impact of plastic waste.
According to a recent study, five countries in Asia - China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines - are the source of 60 percent of plastic waste leaking into oceans.
An Aerogel is a synthetic porous ultralight material usually derived from a gel, in which the liquid component for the gel has been replaced with a gas.The result is a solid with extremely low density and low thermal conductivity. The research team said it had found a way to convert bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) into aerogels that have many potential uses - from insulation and fire safety to cleaning up oil spills. These aerogels made from plastic bottle waste are durable, flexible and very light which make them easy to handle.
One A4 sized aerogel sheet can be made with one recycled bottle and the material can be customized depending on the needs to enhance its ability to absorb and insulate. A sheet coated with fire retardant chemicals can for example withstand temperatures of up to 620 degrees Celsius. That is seven times higher than a regular thermal lining in a firefighter's coat and only 10 percent of the weight.
The material can be used for heat and sound insulation in buildings, cleaning oil spills and in masks to absorb carbon monoxide.
The teamfiled for a patent in March 2018. They are looking for partners to mass produce the aerogel.
Professor Hai Minh Duong - associate professor at the university’s Department of Mechanical Engineering - mentioned that the cost of making a 1 meter by 1 meter by 1 cm sheet could be less than S$10 ($7.30).
Dr. Hai M.Duong received is Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at Melbourne University in 2004. Since then, he expanded his research interests in science and engineering applications of lightweight materials through experiments and computational modeling. He was awarded four postdoctoral fellowships at world-class laboratories: university of Oklahoma, USA; University of Tokyo, Japan; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA and University of Cambridge, UK. Currently, as an Assiociate Professor with Tenure at National University of Singapore (NUS), he awarded 4 competitive global innovational awards and his research interests include a number of emerging fields such as carbon nanotubes (CNTs), aerogels and their applications for aerospace structures, energy devices, environmental treatment, and thermal transport phenomena in small-scale of biological systems. He has 13 patents, published over 10 book chapters, 150 journal papers and conference proceedings, gave several keynotes and invited talks at international conferences worldwide. Dr. Duong is also the key member of Functional Material Society and the technical committee on nanotechnology in Singapore and the editorial member of International Journal of Aeronautical Science and Aerospace Research (IJASAR).