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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Ho'ola one works towards removing microplastics from the environment of the beach. Twelve engineering students at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec built a machine for the organization that isolates plastic pieces from the sandy beaches.
For several years, the plastic waste that ends on Kamilo Beach has been breaking down into increasingly fine particles. Through the years the Hawai'i Wildlife Fund has managed to dump the bulky debris, but it's the small stuff left behind buried in the sand, that's the remaining problem. Animals confuse plastic particles with insects or other living organisms and ingest them. Plastic therefore enters the food chain and poisons it. The Ho'ola One project team aims to help combat this problem.
At University of Sherbrooke, twelve mechanical engineering students have been devoted to this major design project for the last two years of their degree. Leatherman, an aquatic biologist and President of the Hawai'i Wildlife Fund, believes the 'Ho'ola One' - a sand like vacuum designed by Canadian engineering students, is the solution.
The machine has a big vacuum that collects the mix of sand and plastics, once the sand is dropped into a water tank, the sand sinks and the plastic floats. The machine works by separating the plastic parts from sand using the density of the diverse components. The plastic pieces are often too small to be handpicked, however with the help of the machine the minute plastic particles are picked.
The device has removed roughly 230-pounds of micro-plastics at Kamilo Point (in Hawaï) in a matter of days.