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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Clear Blue Sea is an all-volunteer nonprofit with a mission to cleanse the oceans of plastic pollution. Their solution is a Floating Robot for Eliminating Debris (FRED), an unmanned, solar-powered, semi-autonomous marine robot capable of cleaning up debris in rivers, bays and oceans.
Clear Blue Sea was co-founded by two women in STEM to mitigate and remediate ocean plastic pollution and developed its first conceptual design of FRED in 2016. Since then, they have performed research, engineering analysis, design, prototyping, testing, and FRED demonstrations to advance their innovation. Clear Blue Sea is implementing FRED in Program Phases to ensure it is well-designed, easily constructed, and readily maintainable. They have already built two small-scale (6 ft) FRED prototypes in conjunction with student intern teams and they are currently developing FRED Jr. – a 16-foot version of FRED - which will perform the following functions:
Collect, store and unload marine plastic pollution
Power FRED’s propulsion and debris collection systems using solar energy and lithium battery components
Navigate using autonomous systems, with back up remote control from ground stations
Operate sensors to collect and transmit environmental data
Once the 16-foot FRED Jr. prototype is fully tested, demonstrated, and operational, Clear Blue Sea will have completed its Phase II Prototype Program. This will provide an engineering baseline for the Phase III FRED Pilot Program to be implemented in Hawaii. Lessons learned from this final FRED Jr. Prototype Project will be leveraged to put a FRED Instructional Package – available at no cost - into the public domain so that students and ocean conservancy organizations can build their own FREDs to meet the unique needs of marine plastic cleanup in their local environments. Clear Blue Sea has sponsored multiple schools in building their own FREDs, and they look forward to sharing their FRED design with individuals and organizations passionate about cleansing the oceans of plastic pollution.