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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CuanTec is a Scottish company that was started in 2016. They manufacture an anti-microbial, biodegradable, compostable bioplastic food packaging, from fish waste.
Every year, 8.8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the sea and a third of it has only been used once.
CuanTec wants to provide an alternate to the pollution-causing-plastic and the accumulating biomass waste from the fisheries, as well as increase the shelf life of food waste during storage. The startup is a pioneer, being the first company to biological extract chitin from shell at an industrial scale. Their eco-friendly process provides high quality chitin and chitosan that is effective to reduce food spoilage by bacteria and pathogens. Fisheries waste from the Atlantic oceans, comes in the form of fishes, Langoustines, which are the source of chitin. CuanTec uses a biological fermentation process instead of the conventional chemical method to extract chitin from the fish remains. It is then transformed into soluble chitosan which can be used in many applications where its natural anti-microbial properties can be exploited, like packaging. Besides the packaging that they have developed in collaboration with partners, this chitin has 3000 industrial potential uses according to them.
CuanTec claims that their low energy process is much more environmentally friendly than traditional Chemistry methods. It uses 5 times less sodium hydroxide to produce chitosan than the chemical process and gives a higher yield. They are not using hydrochloric acid. Biology is the new chemistry – fermentable carbohydrates produce acids which react with calcium carbonate to produce valuable salts.
Their process is a zero-waste process, only useful by-products are obtained, it uses only harmless bacteria and no harsh chemicals. The first product developed with their chitosan is an anti-microbial, compostable food contact material (FCM) packagingwhich reduces spoilage and prolongs shelf-life of fresh food. Initially this will be aimed at the seafood sector as a perfect example of circular economy.
CuanTec's technology and processes creates exceedingly high quality odorless chitosan through a very gentle process. This provides a perfectly clear film, without yellow tinge that previously has discouraged the use of chitosan in FCM products. CuanTec's films have anti-microbial action against all the main pathogens and food spoilage organisms including E.coli, Salmonella, Vibrio, Listeria and lactic acid bacteria, yeasts and moulds.