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.
Thank you for your interest in Ubuntoo. We’re excited that you’re here! To continue, you’ll need an account with us.
Sandra Pascoe Ortiz, a researcher at University del Valle de Atemajac, has developed a variety of biodegradable plastic produced from cactus juice.
An estimated 19 billion pounds of plastic waste ends up in our oceans and landfills each year. This waste breaks down into minute particles called microplastics, which find their way into our food system.
With her new product, Pascoe aims to reduce both plastic waste, and the number of toxic microplastics generated globally. The cactus used for the experiment belong to the Opuntia family, commonly called the Prickly Pear. These cactus have a large number of monosaccharides,polysaccharides, pectins and organic acids which provide it with a viscous consistency favouring the formation of a solid biopolymer.
The cactus are first blended to extract the juice, decanting it to remove the plant fibres. Following this, the juice is mixed with natural waxes, glycerol,proteins and colourants, providing lamination. The resultant mixture is then dried on a hot plate producing biodegradable bioplastic sheets.
The material is non-toxic, biodegradable and edible. The bioplastic has been tested to biodegrade within a week when soaked in water, and within amonth when left in the soil. The cactus species is edible, making it non-toxic for animal consumption. Additionally, research suggests that the carbon emitted by the cactus during degradation is equal to the carbon used during its growth. This makes the product carbon neutral.
The production time is around 10 days, with research still ongoing to test strength, flexibility and commercialization.
The bioplastic can be used to manufacture shopping bags, cosmetics containers, jewellery, toys and cutlery. Pascoe aims to prepare prototypes of bags prepared from the material as a step towards commercialization.
Pascoe is applying for a patent at the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI). She aims to make the production process available to companies under a licensing agreement.