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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Ecovative Design uses biology to solve fundamental human needs at industrial scales and in consumer applications.
In recent years, biofabrication has involved engineering single-celled organisms like yeast and bacteria to produce proteins for new materials like animal-free silk or leather-like materials. Ecovative uses mycelium, a multicellular organism to grow category-defining products ranging from leather like textiles to sustainable packaging to high performance foams for apparel and beauty. Biology is not only part of the production process, but also the key to their materials’ assembly, enabling structural complexity so far only found in nature.
The technology enables a highly controlled process of mycelium growth for specific outcomes, resulting in more freedom and control over geometry, density, size, and composition of mycelia. The materials they fabricate are Mycocomposite™, Mycofoam, and Mycoflex™. Like many natural materials including wood, leather, and natural fibers, Mushroom® Materials are durable and will last. Preferable to traditional styrofoam and other plastics, mycelium-based products are fully biodegradable and compostable. The Mushroom® Materials do not degrade without exposure to living organisms, such as that found in soil biota, and moisture.
Mycofoam was developed by Ecovative as an alternative to expanded polystyrene, or EPS, the white foam that has become the material of choice to protect products during shipping, especially food and electronics. Mycofoam is made from agricultural waste that is placed into moulds and mixed with live mycelium fungus, which essentially grows the material into a finished shape that can be dried and used as a stable packing material. Like traditional EPS, the material is impact resistant and can be formed into a variety of shapes to suit a customer’s needs, yet it biodegrades in nature and is made from renewable resources.
Companies have already used it to replace EPS, including Dell Computers, which have used Mycofoam to help their production line become 94 per cent waste free. They work with best-in-class brands to prototype, create, build, and scale their products for the largest impact. They license their technology, consult, and provide research expertise to develop high performance, sustainable materials and products across a variety of fields.
Ecovative has been widely recognized for its technical and environmental contributions by organizations like the World Economic Forum and in the media including Wired Magazine, Forbes, and Time.
The European Patent Office (EPO) recently announced that it has nominated Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre as finalists for the European Inventor Award 2019 in the category “Non-EPO countries.”