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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Ocean Bound Plastic Certification scheme recognises work done by businesses and organisations to collect, manage and recycle plastic waste that is vulnerable to enter the oceans. The certification is maintained by the NGO Zero Plastic Oceans.
Over 12 million tons of plastic waste enter the ocean every year, 80% of which originates on land. It is near shores and river banks and is termed ocean-bound plastic.
Under the scheme, companies would be evaluated by third-party certification bodies that are independent of Zero Plastic Oceans. As of 2020, Peterson-Control Union is the only certification agency approved to provide the certification.
The certification consists of three standards:
The first standard recognizes an organisation's efforts to collect of ocean-bound plastics and of selling it to recycling industry or recycling it themselves.
The second standard covers the plastics and plastics recycling industry. It covers trading, transforming and recycling of plastic waste, or for making final products or packaging with recycled plastics. The standard can be used to show recycled ocean-bound plastic content in end products.
The third standard recognises companies’ contribution to finance ZPO’s waste collection initiatives and offers a third-party verified certification of that engagement.
Organisations have to pay fees to ZPO for the certification, and additionally pay fees to the certification agency. The agencies determine fees on a case-to-case basis, whereas ZPO has a fee that depends on the annual turnover of the organisation. Proceeds from the certification fund the maintenance of the certification standards and advocacy efforts towards more implication of the private sector in financing collection of non-recyclable Ocean-Bound Plastic.
The certification would help companies access higher value markets and environmentally conscious consumers and have a positive social and ecological impact, according to Peterson-Control Union.
The certification scheme was developed by ZPO in collaboration with Control Union, and with inputs from Heng Hiap Industries, Oceanworks, Race for Water Foundation, ANCON, Marea Verde, EuroFil, EcoFil, Alcane Conseils, Jan & Oscar Fondation and the support of SUEZ Central America and Caribbean.
Vincent is based in Panama, where he is in charge of the water management and solid waste management business development for SUEZ Central America and Caribbean. He is also involved with the Swiss NGO Race for Water.