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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AlphaMERS is an Indian for-profit company developing environmental solutions to prevent water pollution.
The company has designed a river clean up system with floating barriers which has stopped over 22000 tons of trash including 2200 tons of plastics from reaching the sea in 2018 in Cooum river without any fuel or energy, using only water currents. Floating barriers are barricades made out of steel and aluminium, installed at the inlets of water bodies.
All the trash – plastic, weed, sludge and mixed trash – get caught there, and are prevented from flowing into rivers and lakes. This can prevent trash from flushing back into neighbourhoods, hovering on the surfaces, polluting the waters, destroying the ecosystem and disrupting the free flow of water, aggravating the problem of urban flooding.
This is a passive system and does not require external energy, the water surface velocity does the job. It is secured on both banks or one end is anchored in water as necessary. Boats and floating gear is not required to evacuate the collection. The mesh opening size is 10 cm x 10 cm, though it can be customized. Where boat traffic exists, the alignment can allow boat movement while arresting trash and plastics, with differing alignments in tidal streams. The company has different models for river, stream, and smaller drains.
The floating barrier was first designed and deployed in 2015. It is now deployed in four cities across 20 locations i.e. Chennai, Puducherry, Bengaluru and Tuticorin. They have worked with municipal corporations being a low operating cost solution.
In one of their successful projects, the eight trash boom barriers have acted as nets, preventing the trash from entering the sea. Sources in the Corporation said while nearly 50-60% of the floating garbage consists of sludge, plastic materials contribute 10%. The remaining trash comprise of water hyacinth, tree branches, thermocol boxes and discarded household articles.
Some advantages of this innovation are:
Low operational cost
Absence of motorboats
Does not require fuel or energy
Can be located anywhere and therefore, has road access for easy cleanup
Built strong enough to withstand flood situations, they are also highly durable in the corrosive, polluted waters that they are installed in
The company received the SME Innovation Excellence Award in 2015. Patents for all their innovations are under process in India.
He was a captain of a large seagoing oil tanker in a merchant navy career spanning two decades. He completed his executive MBA from IIM Bangalore and is now looking to developed concept designs, prototypes, and commercialized solutions for river cleanup, wave energy harnessing, oil spill response, and waterfront security solutions.