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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In 2002 CreaCycle GmbH and the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging (IVV) in Germany combined their competencies in a cooperation aimed at Plastic/Raw-material Recycling with a solvent-based technology.
CreaCycle GmbH designs tailored CreaSolv® Formulations for specific CreaSolv® Processesdeveloped by Fraunhofer IVV. CreaSolv® is a registered trademark of CreaCycle GmbH.CreaCycle is specialized in the application of solvents with the lowest possible risk potential for users and environment, in order to enable a safe Circular Economy.
The steps of this process are:
Dissolution - After sorting by polymer type the plastic waste is shredded and dissolved in a vessel with a tailored CreaSolv® Formulation. The target polymer and certain impurities dissolve.
Cleaning - Insoluble impurities are separated to produce a clear solution. The impurities will be waste-handled or can be recycled if they contain valuable substances.
Precipitation - By changing the solubility property of the solution only the polymer drops out and can be regained.
Extrusion - The dried recycled polymer is extruded into new polymer granulates with similar properties like the virgin material, thus allowing it to be used in the original application.
Distillation - The solution is collected and distilled in order to recycle the CreaSolv® Formulation. The remaining insoluble impurities are collected to be waste-handled or recycled if they contain valuable substances.
Regeneration - The recycled CreaSolv® Formulation is again used for the dissolution of plastic waste.
As for mechanical recycling, solvent-based purification belong to the category Physical Recycling and enables the “re-use” of the polymer without down-cycling it to raw-materials (e.g. fuel, syngas, hydrocarbons) or building blocks of polymers, which have to be polymerized again to bring them back into the cycle. CreaSolv®process is a selective extraction and able to separate different thermoplastic polymer types (as used in flexible packaging) and/or imbedded (dangerous) contaminants or additives (as found in post-consumer waste streams) to enable the re-use of thermoplastics in the original application.
The volume of solvents used is very small in relation to the processed plastic (<1%), because the CreaSolv® Formulation is run in a closed-circuit and routinely recycled, whereas the relatively small volume of impurities is separated and concentrated. With its energy balance this process performs very well in environmental impact assessment studies. The smallest plant has a capacity between 2-4.000 tons annually.
Expanded plastics like polystyrene (EPS) can be collected already dissolved in special CreaSolv® Formulations (if compacting is not desired), thus achieving a higher freight density and transport cost reduction. The dissolved plastic can be further processed and recycled immediately in the CreaSolv® Process.
Composite systems like plastic/plastic or plastic/metal are widely-used in automotive, sanitary, electro(nic) and packaging industry, to name only a few. In the case of metal composites actually one is only interested in the recovery of the metals and in packaging mechanical recycling normally fails with combinations of different plastics.
In their recent update “Waste & Packaging” (published November 12, 2019) Unilever informs also about their achievements in regard to the CreaSolv® Process for sachet recycling. As stated by CreaCycle, the pilot plant in Indonesia, opened in 2018 and is actually the only facility in the world where this technology is being used to recycle sachets.
It should be noted, that CreaCycle does not operate a recycling facility.