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 largest producer of oranges in the European Union has initiated the Miplascoe recycling economy project for its packaging and agricultural sector.
Spain is the largest producer of Oranges in Europe and orange waste is of great interest as this industry generates around 1.2 million tonnes of waste.
Various Spanish companies have joined forces with the university in Sevilla to cooperate in the project, which aims to turn the waste from orange juice production into sustainable food packaging. The extraction from the waste of different monomers by microbial fermentation and the synthesis of biopolyesters will, after a subsequent modification, expect to have the properties appropriate for its use in profile extrusion and for the production of bottles by injection blow moulding.
Like plastic, when dried the material is tough and malleable but unlike plastic, it is also biodegradable. However, manufacturers must stabilise conservation immediately after production in order to prevent bacteria and fungi from forming. The project is still in the testing phase.
The waste comes from Spanish orange juice producer J. Garcia Carrion and goes through different companies until it is developed into a biopolyester that Plastipak can inject and blow to produce a bottle. The project consortium is formed by J. Garcia Carrion, Agrocode, Canagrosa, Plastipak, Lisanplast, Azvi, and research organisations Aimplas, Polytechnic University of Valencia and the University of Sevilla.
Pilar Villanueva, senior researcher and R&D project leader at Aimplas explained in an interview with Bio-Based World News that one of the most challenging aspects of the research has been the conservation of orange waste until its use. As well, “Due to the origin of monomers, impurities are expected in the final product but a high purity monomer has been obtained after purification methods.” Villanueva said that the bio-plastic is expected to be used in "injected bottles for orange juice packaging" and extruded profiles suitable for the railway sector. However, bio-polymer used in the packaging and agricultural sector has garnered the most interest, she said.
The researchers involved in the development are now encouraging the partners to upscale the process of fermentation to produce higher amounts of monomers and produce biodegradable bottles at industrial level to package orange juice, among other things.
Other companies and researchers have explored the use of orange peels used for bio-plastics. Israel-based compostable packaging company Tipa has also been inspired by food waste to turn it into alternative plastic packaging. Its packaging is bio-based, 100% compostable and has similar mechanical and shelf-life properties to ordinary plastic.