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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The MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory – known as CSAIL – is the largest research laboratory at MIT and one of the world’s most important centers of information technology research. CSAIL has played a key role in the computer revolution and developments such as time-sharing, massive parallel computers, public key encryption, mass commercialization of robots.
Every year trash companies sift through an estimated 68 million tons of recycling, which is the weight equivalent of more than 30 million cars. This led the MIT team to come up with RoCycle.
RoCycle is short for “recycling robot”. The pick and place robot utilizes a unique combination of sensors to help distinguish the material differences of objects in order to sort them ahead of the recycling process. The robot uses pincers to pick through garbage and identify what materials each bit contains. It could help reduce how much waste gets sent to landfill. RoCycle could also be good at identifying electrical items that have plastic cases, such as video game controllers or electronic toys. Built on top of a Rethink Robotics Baxter, the system utilizes a Teflon gripper with built in sensors that are capable of determining an object’s makeup based on size.
The gripper first uses its “strain sensor” to estimate an object’s size, and then uses its two pressure sensors to measure the force needed to grasp an object. These metrics – along with calibration data on the size and stiffnesses of objects of different material types – is what gives the gripper a sense of what material the object is made of (Since the tactile sensors are also conductive, they can detect metal by how much it changes the electrical signal).
CSAIL is committed to pioneering new approaches to computing that will bring about positive changes in the way people around the globe live, play, and work.
RoCycle was awarded the Turing Awards (the Nobel Prize of Computing).
Lillian is a graduate student at MIT in Daniela Rus' lab, working towards a PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. She graduated from MIT in 2017 with a Bachelors of Science in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science with minors in Mechanical Engineering and Comparative Media Studies. Her technical research interests are in creating computational material robots -- robots with advanced functionality through the algorithmic design of their material properties.