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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Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB is working on developing high performance polymers from a natural substance: the monoterpene 3-carene; a component of turpentine oil - a waste stream of the production of cellulose from wood. Until now, this by-product has been most of the time incinerated.
Fraunhofer researchers are using new catalytic processes to convert 3-carene into building blocks for biobased plastics. The new polyamides are transparent and have a high thermal stability.
They have now succeeded in optimizing the synthesis of lactams from the terpene 3-carene and converting them into a scalable, competitive process on a potentially industrial scale. The conversion usually requires four successive chemical steps but the pending solution is that the conversions can take place as "one-pot reaction sequence" in a single reactor, which save money and time. They are also working on the development of a purification method which makes it possible to prepare the target product with purities sufficient for subsequent polymerization.
The optimized synthesis will be performed in a larger reactor with a volume of 4 litres in order to deliver data for a further scale-up to a pilot plant scale with a volume of 20 litres at Fraunhofer UMSICHT. Here, sufficient amounts of the 3-carene-based lactam will be produced in order to supply the industrial partners with product samples.
The feasibility of the anionic polymerization of the 3-carene-based lactam has already been demonstrated and is to be optimized further as a part of this project.
The institute is now working on the determination of the properties of the new polymer.