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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NatureWorks LLC has developed Ingeo, a range of PLA bioplastics made by transforming carbon sequestered by using agricultural crops.
NatureWorks aims at transforming atmospheric carbon, a greenhouse gas, into raw material for manufacturing Ingeo bioplastics. This is achieved by using agricultural crops to sequester atmospheric carbon, transforming it into metabolic sugars during the process. The carbon is stored as dextrose and sucrose in Cassava, corn starch, sugar cane or beets.
The manufacturing process for Ingeo involves a few simple steps:
The agricultural crops are milled to extract starch. It is then fermented to produce lactic acid.
A proprietary process is used to convert lactic acid to lactide rings.
The lactide rings are linked to form a long chain polylactide polymer.
The long-chain polylactide polymer is termed Ingeo. Ingeo polymers are transformed into pellets for industrial applications.
Ingeo manufacturing produces 80% fewer greenhouse gases and uses 52% less non-renewable energy compared to commercial polymers. Ingeo cold drink cups have been assessed and proven to have a lesser environmental footprint compared to PP or PET cups.
Ingeo has been used in a range of applications including beauty, construction, agriculture, food packaging, medicines and 3D printing among others.
NatureWorks is jointly owned by Cargill and PTT Global Chemical, a Thai state-owned company.