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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Potato Plastic is a biodegradable material, made of potato starch. It can decompose to nutrients for the soil within only two months when it ends up in the nature. Potato Plastic can be used for products such as cutleries, bags and certain packaging.
There are an estimated eight million tons of plastic in the world’s oceans and the fast food industry is one of the main sources of plastic waste, since these utensils are cheap as well as grab and go-friendly. This, in combination with their quality, is devastating for the environment. Therefore, Pontus saw an opportunity in adapting their quality to their planned length of life.
Pontus Törnqvist's new prototype ‘plastic’ is consisting of only potato starch and water. The technical part of this product is the production of the material. First, the exact amount of both ingredients is mixed together, and then heated until the fluid thickens. It is then poured into molds and exposed to heat until is a dry compact piece. Regarding of how much fluid is poured into a mould, the material can either become a thick, tough piece, or a thin film. This material is a kind of thermoplastic, which means that it can be moulded under compression when it is exposed to heat and moisture. This opens up for many design possibilities, regarding everything from product selection to detailed patterns on the surface of the material. Since no extreme heat is needed, the moulds can be made of plastic. This decreases the cost significantly compared to if the moulds would be made of metal.
Pontus is now investigating ways to industrialize the products. In Sweden, there is a lot of waste from potato farming so a lot of material to be used and he sees a future possibility to adapt the starch after the country where the product will be sold. Starch from rice from example could be used instead. He definitely sees an ecological and an economical benefit in using the waste that we already have instead of creating new waste.
Pontus is an industrial designer and graduated from Lund University in the south of Sweden. He has recently been an industrial design intern at KEA where he focused on developing his experimental skills, including in the area of biomaterials.