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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Ecover makes a variety of products using clever science, harnessing the power of nature, from laundry liquid and washing up liquid through to power cleaners and shower cream. They want to be a role model to show the way forward for manufacturers to use better, more sustainable types of plastic and reduce our ‘plastic footprint’. To do this, they work out how to ‘close the loop’ by recovering and reusing as much packaging as possible and not let it go to waste. And they’re stepping up efforts to find new biodegradable materials to move away from plastic altogether.
The company claims that their guidelines for environmental criteria, the selection of ingredients and manufacturing processes are far stricter that those required by EU legislation.
Ecover uses sustainable plant-based and mineral ingredients. All ingredients are chosen to ensure the products are as effective as possible whilst achieving the lowest possible toxicity and the most rapid and complete biodegradability.
Ecover has spent seven years developing a new ecological surfactant for use in its hard surface cleaning products. This new Eco-Surfactant is claimed to clean as well as – or better than - the leading conventional brands. The products are made with fully renewable plant-based ingredients and produced using a totally biochemical process. All the liquid products are packaged in their Rebel bottle.
The brand new Washing Up Liquid bottle is made from 100% post-consumer recycled, 100% recyclable plastic. By 2020, they’re aiming to make all their bottles like this. They’ve made sure the bottle cap is fully recyclable too using plastic polypropylene. The redesigned cap now uses less plastic than their previous cap, saving an estimated 14 tonnes a year from manufacturing process. Its thoughtful, functional design also means the bottle can be stored upside down easily, making it more convenient to use. They like to call it upside down technology.
Ecover has been recognised by the United Nations Environment programme (UNEP) for their outstanding practical achievements for the protection and improvement of the environment.
Tom Domen, is Long Term Innovation Manager at Ecover for 6 years. He started working for Philips in packaging innovation after which he worked for 5 years as a marketing and communication specialist at Panasonic. Tom graduated in 1996 with a Master in Industrial Design. In 2007, he completed a Master in Sustainable Development at the University of Brussels. With his Master on Sustainable Technology for Eastern Africa, he received the yearly Award for Innovative Technology from the Chamber of Engineers.