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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Carson Meredith (Georgia Institute of Technology) and collaborators have developed a platform technology for manufacturing barrier films based on renewable plant and food waste resources. These flexible films are composed of recyclable or compostable chitin and cellulose, are coatable on many substrates in roll-to-roll operations, and impart barrier properties that are competitive with PET.
Packaging is critical to distributing and marketing food, pharmaceuticals and electronic products to a growing population. Flexible barrier or protective packaging is dependent on nonrenewable, non-recyclable components for single-use products. It is a major contributor to landfill and ocean waste accumulation.
They combine chitin and cellulose nanofibres, sourced from crustacean food waste and plants. Fibres are coated from water-based suspension onto a substrate, but free standing films are possible. The chitin and cellulose are oppositely charged. Through their synergistic interaction, they form dense films with high O2 permeability, transparence, and mechanical properties. Chitin and cellulose have GRAS status with the FDA. This technology received an honorable mention in the 2017 Circular Plastic Innovation Competition of the Ellen G. MacArthur Foundation, and grants from the US Department of Energy and Georgia Tech Renewable Bioproducts Institute.
The technology is at an early readiness level (TRL 3). As raw materials are becoming more widely available (chitin, chitosan or cellulose nano/microfibres), through construction and start-up of facilities in North America, Europe and Asia, pricing is expected to be competitive with medium-to-high barrier films within 3 years. The technology requires development to translate to a commercial application. Their commercialization plan includes a 3-year timeframe for moving to TRL 5-6 and trials in commercial environments.
They welcome inquiries from companies interested in developing renewable packaging solutions with barrier performance, including converters, raw material suppliers, or brand owners. A start-up business is under consideration for production of raw materials, and early investment is invited. Their application space involves food packaging (including meat, cheese, fruit and vegetables, as well as snack items), pharmaceuticals, surgical instrument sealing, and electronics substrates and packaging such as flexible printable displays or circuitry.