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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Carbios SA is a green chemistry company that focuses on discovering and developing enzymatic bioprocesses applied to plastic and textile polymers. For the first time in the history of the plastics industry, it is possible to recycle plastic waste to infinity to create new plastic materials without a loss of mechanical properties nor the need to add virgin plastic in order to produce a new product.
CARBIOS is pioneering the use of enzymes to degrade the polymers that make up plastic and textile materials. This is another process different from recycling that has been licensed to Carbiolice.
For example, to recycle PET bottles, the process is the following: once shredded and inserted in a reactor containing water, enzymes are used to enable the specific de-polymerization of PET contained in the various plastics to be recycled. At the end of this stage, the monomers resulting from the de-polymerization process will be purified, with the objective to re-polymerize them into PET with thee same quality as virgin one, thus enabling a recycling process to infinity. As stated in the Nature Research Journal, the improved PET hydrolase can achieve, over 10 hours, a minimum of 90 per cent PET depolymerization into monomers, without degrading their quality, with a productivity of 16.7 grams of terephthalate per litre per hour (200 grams per kilogram of PET suspension, with an enzyme concentration of 3 milligrams per gram of PET). Eventually, the plastic residues not degraded during the first stage will be de-polymerized in the same way in a second stage by applying a different enzyme that will de-polymerize other polymers in the same way as in the first stage.
CARBIOS is particularly interested in polyesters (PET, PLA, etc.) and polyamides. These polymers have chains of monomers that are easily identifiable by the enzymes, and are thus easier to de-polymerize. Therefore, this technology particularly targets the global market of plastic bottles (water, milk, sodas, cosmetics…), packaging, films and textile.
The company is aiming for industrial-scale recycling within five years. It has partnered with several companies including Pepsi and L’Oréal to accelerate the development. The Objective for Carbios is to be able to match the price of fossil fuel based virgin plastic.
Carbios won EuropaBio’s 2017 Most Innovative European Biotech SME Award in the Industrial Biotech category. The company was judged part of the 10 Hot European Biotechs to observe in 2017 according Labiotech.eu (Europe’s leading digital media for Biotech).