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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Ichthion (previously Remora Marine) develops a cutting-edge technology to restore the ocean environment by removing plastics and synthetic waste, before they travel through the entire ocean ecosystem.
Microplastics in the sea are a growing threat to human health. Almost 8 million tonnes of plastic waste enter the oceans per year, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, with an exponential increase predicted over the coming years. This is a problem of unfathomable scale with far-reaching effects for wildlife and for humanity, one that makes the future of the oceans seem bleak.
Born out of the laboratories of Imperial College London and the studios of the Royal College of Art, Ichthion was created with the sole purpose of restoring the ocean environment. It utilizes the latest technology and research along with a self-critical approach to innovation to ensure its solution remains effective without compromise. They have developed three types of technology streams: Azure, Cobalt and Ultramarine. These operate in different environments to prevent macro and micro plastics entering into the phytoplankton growth areas in coastal zones, and also for the reclamation of plastics in the ocean. Their systems are in Technology Readiness Level 3 (Proof of concept).
The potential of their energy-generative systems to tackle the global problem of plastic pollution has been recognized by several prominent organizations through several awards and grants. For example, the Scalable Business Award by Imperial College London, two grants from Climate-KIC, the EU's main climate innovation initiative, the Hawley Award from the Worshipful Company of Engineers. They won the Plastics innovation competition: towards zero waste of Innovate UK.
As attempts to clean up the oceans are often highlighted as being cost prohibitive and unlikely to succeed based on scaling factors, Ichthion adopts the same strategy as the eponymous fish. It will circumvent both of these issues simultaneously by using existing infrastructures and adding the technology into them. This gives the necessary scale, avoids huge start up costs, and overlaps coverage with the ecologically important coastal zones.
Inty is a co-founder and COO of Ichthion and has a PhD in engineering design from the Dyson School of Design Engineering, Imperial College London. He is managing the acceleration programme at Central Research Laboratory. Serial entrepreneur with more than a decade of experience developing projects to improve SME's and large organisations in Europe, Asia and South America.
Robert Edwin Rouse
Chief Technology Officer
Award winning engineer & PhD student at the University of Cambridge for the academic year commencing in 2017, with experience in Engineering, Science, and Design.