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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The MIT Department of Chemistry has developed a new ethylene sensor that could monitor the ethylene in fruits and vegetables and prevent food waste.
There is a constant need for improved food production and food wastage elimination. An estimation of the U. S. Department of Agriculture shows that supermarkets lose around 12 % of their fruits and vegetables to spoilage. The sensor can enable people to handle long term produces like apples and potatoes, etc., by measuring the ethylene and determine if it's in a stasis mode or if it's ripening. It could be used to monitor fruit and vegetables as they are shipped and stored, helping to reduce food waste.
Most plants produce a gaseous compound called ethylene, which is used as a hormone to stimulate growth, ripening, and other critical stages of their life cycle. For example, bananas produce increasing amounts of ethylene as they ripen and turn brown, and flowers produce it as they prepare to bloom.
The ethylene sensor is based on carbon nanotubes and works on Wacker oxidation mechanisms. It uses a metal catalyst called palladium that adds oxygen to ethylene during the oxidation process. As the oxidation is carried out by the palladium catalyst, the catalyst temporarily gains electrons. These extra electrons are then passed to carbon nanotubes by palladium, making them more conductive. The researchers could detect the presence of ethylene by measuring the resultant change in current flow.
Within a few seconds of exposure, the sensor responds to ethylene and, once the gas is gone, the sensor returns to its baseline conductivity within a few minutes. The sensor can detect ethylene gas concentration as low as 15 parts per billion.
The capabilities of the sensor were tested by monitoring the ethylene production in two types of flowers--Carnations and purple Lisianthus. The carbon nanotubes along with other sensor components were deposited on a glass slide. The production of ethylene was measured over five days, tracking the relationship between ethylene levels and plant flowering.
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the U. S. Army Engineer Research and Development center, Environmental Quality Technology Program, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Sao Paulo Research Foundation. The MIT team has also filed for a patent on the sensor.
Ethylene is also the world's most widely manufactured organic compound, as it is used to manufacture plastic and clothing products. Therefore along with the food industry, the sensor can also be useful for monitoring industrial ethylene manufacturing.