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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In an effort to make deliveries more sustainable, AEROPOWDER has createdpluumo, the world’s first sustainable thermal packaging material made from waste chicken feathers. Feathers are made of keratin, a strong and chemically resistant protein. They are also one of the lightest natural fibres and highly efficient thermal insulators.
In a world of increasing convenience, the number of packages being delivered is growing every day. For temperature sensitive goods, thermal insulation materials are critical to their integrity. Unfortunately, the vast majority of conventional insulation materials are made from plastics such as expanded polystyrene (EPS). While EPS has excellent thermal insulation properties, it is mainly derived from fossil fuels and will take several hundred years to begin to degrade.
Harnessing the natural properties of feathers, pluumo can match the thermal insulation performance of EPS but has also been designed to be completely biodegradable. As a flat packed product, it also offers logistical benefits over bulky EPS boxes.
At the core of AEROPOWDER, founded in 2016, is the philosophy to embrace the circular economy and create useful materials out of 'hidden' waste streams. The co-founders Elena Dieckman, a design engineer, and Ryan Robinson, a biologist, have used the natural properties of feathers to create a novel sustainable insulation material. Surplus feathers are cleaned and processed into a unique textile, and then covered in a biodegradable film for ease of handling. With excellent thermal properties and a versatile form, it has numerous potential applications for the local production of sustainable products beyond pluumo, as the raw materials are in abundant supply all over the world.
Pluumo was launched in the UK market in mid-2018, and AEROPOWDER are now looking to scale up. The company has won various awards including the Mayor of London's Low Carbon Entrepreneur, the Varsity Pitch Competition, the Green Alley Award and the INFOCUS Women in Innovation Award. Elena and Ryan have been similarly recognised for their work by featuring in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe list for Social Entrepreneurship and becoming Echoing Green Climate Fellows.