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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NatPol is a Chile-based startup that has developed a process to convert agricultural waste into bio-degradable plastics. The process was developed by scientists at the Catholic University of Maule in Chile.
Traditional plastics are not biodegradable and toxic for the environment. Bio-based alternatives currently form barely 1% of the total plastics in use. NatPol was created out of a research project by founder Rodrigo Andler, who was looking for value-added solutions to agricultural waste.
NatPol produces bio-degradable plastic pellets from a customized bacterial fermentation process. The bio-plastic consists of biopolymers known as short chain length and medium chain length Polyhydroxyalkanoates or PHAs and PolyHydroxyButyrate-co-HydroxyValerate (PHBHV).
The product is in the form of pellets that can be used to produce plastic products. It doesnot require any changes to existing plastic production lines. The process uses only agricultural waste and not food products.
NatPol received support from Know Hub Ignition, a Chile-based technology transfer group. It is currently drafting a patent for its product. It aims at producing packaging for the food services segment, including Chile’s fruit production industry.
NatPol is developing two potential business models:
One is to license its technology to flexibleplastic producers.
The second is to produce the pellets and sell them to flexible packaging producers. The company's objective is to set up a production capacity of 2,500 tonnes per year by the end of 2021.