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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Biotechnology startup Modern Meadow is producing lab-grown biobased sustainable leather from yeast cells to mimic collagen fibers.
Traditionally used leather leaves a large environmental footprint during its production process in the form of greenhouse gases and tanning chemicals. By sourcing leather from biomaterials, Modern Meadow joins the growing list of companies developing ethical substitutes to the traditional leather.
The core of Modern Meadow's technology lies in bio-fabrication, a method to make materials inspired by nature and essential life elements like DNA, proteins, and cells. The technology works in three steps:
Design: The DNA is designed to give rise to tailored yeast cells for the production of bio-fabricated leather.
Grow: The designed cells are fermented for growth, during which they produce collagen proteins to be used as raw materials for bio leather.
Assemble: The proteins are used in a variety of compositions which can be combined with other materials to be tailored for applications.
The bio-fabrication process takes about two weeks as opposed to the two years in traditional leather production.
The material is 100% animal-free, and the yeast cells are fed with renewably sourced glycerol from rapeseed.
Modern Meadow's first commercial bio leather product will be Zoa. Currently, under development, Zoa will be available as a premium range of bio-fabricated leather in the next few years.
Modern Meadow is also currently conducting Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) to calculate the environmental footprint to better understand the impact of the product in comparison to traditional leather.
Andras was mentioned in Crain's 40 Under 40 in 2016 for people in business. He is an alumnus of Harvard University. He is a co-founder of start-ups Fork & Goode and The Resolution Project. He is a co-founder of Modern Meadow and the CEO of the same.