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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Plastic Packaging Recycling using Intelligent Separation technologies for Materials or PRISM is a technology being developed by a British consortium to quickly sort different kinds of plastics in recycling processes. PRISM uses fluorescent labels on plastic packages that can be read by high-speed optical sorting machines.
Several high-value materials in plastic packaging are not re-used because it is difficult to sort them. As a result, they end up as residues in recycling facilities. Nearly 77,000 tonnes of food-grade plastic can be separated and reused, according to the consortium.
PRISM aims to solve this by developing fluorescent markers that can be printed on plastic packaging sleeves and labels. The label can be read by an ultraviolent light source fixed inside high-speed automatic sorting equipment.
The process can distinguish between food-grade and non food-grade polymers. It can identify black plastics and tag full-length shrink-sleeves. It helps efficiently sort out polypropylene or PP packaging for food materials, sleeved PET, and high-density polyethylene or HDPE milk bottles. It is complementary to existing NIR technology.
The luminescent materials would be developed from compounds that don’t use rare earth elements and from materials recovered from fluorescent lamp recycling. The labels get completed removed during the recycling process.
The targeted waste streams include food-contact plastics, bioplastics, chemical packaging, automotive plastics, black plastics and different grades of one plastic.
PRISM can be used in existing high-speed optical sorting systems with minor modifications. In pilot runs, it demonstrated 96% purity with yield in excess of 95%, which meets the European Union’s standards for 95% purity in PET food grade plastic.
The partners of the consortium are Nextek, Brunel University, Tomra, CCL, Mirage Inks, Johnson Matthey, Enlightened Lamp Recycling (ELR), Cleantech Europe and WRAP.