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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Biofase is a Mexican company that has developed a process to turn avocado seeds, an industrial waste, to a useful product: bioplastics. The company produces plastic cutlery like spoons, forks and knives with the bioplastic. The avocado-based bioplastic biodegrades after 240 days of being exposed to the elements or buried in the ground.
80% of the bioplastics are currently made from crops like corn that are used as feedstock. This is a competition for these valuable resources for use as food and fodder. Moreover, these bioplastics are 40% more expensive than conventional plastics.
The founder of Biofase, Scott Munguía produced the biodegradable plastic in 2012, and obtained a patent for it in 2013. Since they use waste as their raw material they are able to produce bioplastics at prices that are competitive. In 2015, he began manufacturing the bioplastic, and by 2016 the first products, cutlery and straws were ready. The technology has been recognized by a global award ‘Top 5 Bioplastic Innovations’ in 2015. Its main markets are the United States, Canada, Costa-Rica, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, where the products are sold under the brand name Avoplant.
Biofase produces 130 tons per month of the biodegradable products, of which 80 tons are meant for export. The plant uses 15 tonnes of avocado seeds every day bought from US company Simplot. The firm and its products have been covered extensively in the Mexican press for their positive impact in reducing plastic waste by providing an economically viable option. Moreover, the raw material avocado seeds come from a crop, and instead of releasing carbon dioxide, it fixes carbon dioxide as the plant grows and thrives.
Prior to the creation of Biofase, all biodegradable plastic products had to be imported from other countries into Mexico. Biofase, through its patented technology, became the only bioplastics producing company in Mexico. They decided to go further and now lead the production of biodegradable plastic in Latin America, exporting products to more than 11 countries.
Scott Muguia is the founder of Biofase and developed the process to produce biodegradable plastics from avocado. He studied chemical engineering at the Tecnológico de Monterrey (a private university system in Mexico).