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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Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) is a charity that aims to develop and apply innovative marine science to ensure a sustainable future for the ocean. Working in association with national and international partners, they have conducted research and implemented solutions.
Among their research is a project that utilizes satellites to detect ocean plastics. The Sentinel-2 satellites will allow PML scientists to assess oceanic changes and assist in managing impacts in human-affected inland water and marine environments. Using satellite imagery, patches of floating plastics can be detected and mapped. This technology is 86% accurate at distinguishing plastics from naturally occurring floating materials.
The research team continues to improve their methods to increase accuracy in large river systems and turbid coastal waters. The results of their research can help inform the development of improved international agreements to effectively combat the marine plastics problem.
PML was the first organization to identify that microplastics are damaging to zooplankton and was instrumental in the scientific reasoning behind the UK legislation that banned microplastic beads. PML continues its outreach activities globally to increase public awareness of the global plastic issue and to urge policymakers and manufacturers to act.