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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Waste conversion expert EconPro has developed Polytag, a technological platform which can 'tag' and 'trace' household recycling, thus enabling brands to work with their customers to keep packaging in circulation for longer and creating a high-value material feedstock in the process.
Polytag aims to enable tracking of individual packaging items by assigning a "Product Assigned Code" (PAC) to each one at the point of manufacture. Each product will be assigned a unique code in two forms:
A visible form to be scanned by the customer. This black visible Spectrum marking is done by a proprietary system.
An invisible UV Spectrum form to be identified during production and collection for recycling. Being invisible, the UV spectrum mark does not interfere with product branding and enables better detection during the recycling phase by the Polytag proprietary vision system CirculAI®. However, it can be detected even when the packaging is crushed or damaged.
The PAC tag is stored in the Polytag platform cloud during production. Once a customer is ready to dispose of a particular item, they are required to scan the PAC using the Polytag mobile phone app. Consumers will be provided with instructions on how to clean and prepare the packaging for the recycling process. This system enables brands to trace their packaging, then separate it from the existing waste stream and recycle it in batches of identical polymer, building a high-value plastic feedstock at a potentially lower price which can be reused by the same brand multiple times.
Once the platform is fully adopted, rather than placing the Polytag-scanned products in a kerbside recycling bin, it is intended that consumers will arrange for a collection or simply return the packaging to participating retailers or community recycling champions from where it will be collected by Polytag. This will allow the waste to be directed towards a Polytag-enabled MRF, where the packaging will be scanned again.
The MRF will further scan the PACs on each item, grouping them into the same batch packaging. Upon reaching a particular limit, the waste will be converted into pellets or granulates and returned to the brand.
The consumer will be updated via the Polytag app on the journey of his/her packaging and notified when it has been returned to the Polytag MRF for reprocessing. Retailers and brands can incentivise collection through a ‘Circular Reward’® setting that provides rewards and updates on recycling collection targets.
The company is targeting corporate brands including high street retailers and multinational manufacturers who use high quantities of plastic PET, HDPE packaging or aluminium.
Funded by Ecosurety, Polytag ran a 40 days trial in Wirral, Merseyside to assess market viability. The trial was conducted in partnership with Palmolive Naturals and Lynx Deodorant. Learnings should soon be available.