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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Biome Bioplastics and Futamura have partnered to demonstrate a range of bio-based and compostable multilayer films.
Multilayer films can be used in packaging both for fresh products and dry foods to extend shelf life in a cost effective manner. However, their multilayer construction means that this type of packaging cannot be recycled and lacks a viable disposal route.
The films are compliant to the European industrial composting standard EN13432, meaning that they disintegrate by 90% within 12 weeks and biodegrade by 90% to water, CO2 and biomass within 180 days.
The materials have also been tested and proved to be non-toxic to both soil and plant life. They offer competitive performance, while tackling the negative environmental impact of traditional oil-based, non-recyclable multilayer packaging.
Sustainable alternatives to challenging packaging formats such as multilayer pouches will be key to meeting the UK Plastics Pact target that 70% of plastic packaging is effectively recycled or composted by 2025.