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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Lucy Hughes from University of Sussex has taken inspiration from the seas to find a solution to the man-made plastic pollution contaminating the world’s oceans.
Plastic pollution is having a negative impact on our oceans and wildlife health. There have been many instances of marine impacts. To fight this problem, Lucy invented a bioplastic created from fish skin and scales and red algae which could have a huge impact on limiting the amount of non-biodegradable plastic waste created in the world.
The fully biodegradable and home compostable material is called Marinatex and has been designed as an environmentally-responsible replacement for plastic film currently used in a whole host of packaging including sandwich boxes. It can biodegrade in a soil environment in less than a month and can be disposed of through ordinary food waste collections. With Marinatex, they are transforming a waste stream into the main component of a new product. By doing so, they have created a consistent, transparent and 'plastic-like' material with a more planet friendly and product appropriate life cycle for packaging.
Lucy identified the potential in the material, in reliable and plentiful supply, which when combined with a biopolymer such as red algae created an extremely effective plastic substitute. Algae bioplastic are becoming more common, but the issue Lucy faced during development was that the sheets that were made without the fish waste, seemed to revert into a crinkled seaweed shape.
Marinatex degrades in a tiny fraction of that time, and is also cheaper to produce and does not require an entirely new recycling scheme for disposal. The newly-developed material is also stronger than a standard plastic bag and does not leach toxins into the natural environment. The material was developed as part of Lucy’s undergraduate product design degree at the University of Sussex, but she is keen to develop the idea further.
Lucy is a fourth year product design undergraduate student at the University of Sussex. She has worked as a Sales Associate and Cashier at Rugby Football Union, a Mathematics Tutor at The Study Zone, Hospitality Associate at Marriott Hotels and as a Product Management Assistant with Stanley Black & Decker Inc.