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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SaltyCo uses seawater to grow salt-tolerant plants that can be converted into textiles, eliminating the use of freshwater, which is a scarce natural resource.
The production of textiles is a very water-intensive practice, with for example 1200 litres of freshwater needed to produce a single cotton sock. Given that freshwater is becoming a scarce resource, and with many countries not being able to meet their freshwater needs, using it to produce fabrics is not environment-friendly. Many lakes, reservoirs, and rivers are also gradually drying up, leading to a situation where freshwater will soon be unavailable for human consumption.
SaltyCo aims to reduce this dependence on freshwater for the production of fabrics, by using seawater as a viable substitute. SaltyCo has achieved this by working with farmers to grow salt-tolerant plants with seawater and process them to create sustainable fabrics and high-quality textiles.
The fabrics being produced by them have properties similar to linen and cotton, and can be used to create insulating jacket liners, faux leather, and clothing like t-shirts and trousers. Non-woven fabric, woven fabric, and technical stuffing are the three types of textile products being offered currently. The stuffing is light, water-repellent and warm.
By reducing the dependence on freshwater for producing textiles, and creating environment-friendly fabrics, SaltyCo aims to help companies and countries preserve freshwater resources, which can be used for all potable purposes.
SaltyCo is the brainchild of some students at the Royal College of Art, London, and is currently participating in the Imperial Enterprise Lab’s Venture Catalyst Challenge.