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.
Lessons learned from this FRED Jr. prototype 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.
Once the 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 50 foot FRED Pilot Program to be implemented in Hawaii. The 50 foot FRED will deliver the following enhanced capabilities:
Collect floating marine plastic and debris ranging in size from 5mm to 5 meters on a 24/7 basis
Propel at 2 knots to prevent unannounced infringement on marine life
Navigate autonomously based on GPS trajectory commands from mission control staff
Navigate under remote control during unsafe conditions (storms, etc.)
Utilize only solar power for FRED operations with stored energy available on cloudy days
Provide excess stored energy to governmental and commercial marine Underwater Autonomous Vehicles (UAVs) for recharging their batteries without having to return to land
Alert marine mammals of FRED proximity using appropriate acoustic pingers recommended by marine scientists at Scripps Institute of Oceanography
Capture environmental, oceanographic, and marine ecosystem data in real-time for transmittal to designated scientific, governmental, and commercial information systems
Transmit sensor and instrumentation data to ground-based mission control systems for Clear Blue Sea staff to monitor, govern, and control fleets of FRED as required