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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Chitin is found in everything from lobster, shrimp, crab shells, insect exoskeletons, and squid beaks. Like plastic, it is resilient and versatile.
Canadian scientists at McGill University have developed a process that allows these shells to be processed into eco-friendly plastic. Chitin is already used to produce chitosan polymers which have a number of different applications. What associate professor of Applied Chemistry Audrey Moores and her team had to make was to figure out was how to ramp up the scale. The material is biodegradable so if it ends up in the environment, it won't pollute but at the same time the team processed it well to make it durable.
Sourcing the material isn't a problem as crab, lobster, and shrimp shells are readily available as food waste.
Research assistant Thomas Di Nardo says the project is unique because it produces a “long polymer which hasn’t been used before”. It then creates stronger materials.
The team add additives to modify the properties of the biopolymers to aim for greater flexibility and resistance to wear. The material is compostable and can be used in biomedical applications. Professor Audrey Moores mentioned that their bioplastic could be used for biomedical materials such as implants and as well for several other applications, such as 3D printer filament to disposable cutlery and perhaps even bags.
This material can contribute to decrease the environmental harm caused by traditional single-use plastics.
The team is now working on making the plastic more malleable. They’re experimenting with different non-toxic additives to make that happen. They have already received a patent and are now working to commercialize their research.