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 Glopack (Granting society with Low environmental impact innovative Packaging) project works towards investigating food packaging with no environmental footprint and the ability to extend the shelf life of food products.
The next generation of packaging should be eco-efficient in respect to its source, usage benefit and end of life. Packaging should reduce food waste and preserve food quality and safety. It should also help to reduce both agricultural waste and the 9 million metric tons (9.9 million tons) of plastic packaging waste ending up in European landfills each year.
The aim of the GLOPACK project is to facilitate access to innovative and eco-efficient food packaging for both consumers and companies. The principle of circular economy plays a crucial role in this project, in particular it aims to reduce agro-food and packaging waste.
The project uses residues from food industry and agriculture such as spoiled fruit juices, cattle manure, wheat straw and grapevine shoots as some of the feedstocks for the two key components of the packaging.
The first component, called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) is synthesized by microbes and is biodegradable. The second component is made from wheat straw fibers and grapevine shoots. These components are made into pellets, which are then formed into packaging in the same way petroleum-based polymers are.
GLOPACK focuses on increasing the Technology Readiness Level of three promising advances in the food packaging area:
bio-circular (biodegradable materials issued from agro-food residues conversion) packaging materials;
active packaging to improve food preservation and shelf-life without additives;
RFID enabled wireless food spoilage indicator as new generation of self-adjusting food date label.
GLOPACK project also has a Stakeholders’ Platform where the members:
have early access the GLOPACK results,
can meet other stakeholders,
can connect to people in their own field of work,
can discuss the issues related to sustainable and biodegradable food packaging with peers,
can explain their needs for new packaging solutions and the pre-requisites of their practical applications in your work.
Glopack proposes a cutting-edge strategy addressing the technical and societal barriers to spread in our social system, innovative eco-efficient packaging able to reduce food environmental footprint. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 773375.