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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Spero Renewables is a green chemistry company that develops technologies for plant-based alternatives to products manufactured with petrochemicals. Spero utilizes its proprietary technology to unlock the resources of readily available biomass for making natural and environmentally friendly products. Spero was founded in 2013 by Mahdi Abu-Omar, Ph.D., the Mellichamp Professor of green chemistry at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
One of the technologies they have developed is SPERLU ™ technology, converting biomass lignin, a waste byproduct of cellulosic ethanol production that is expensive to remediate, into valuable, environmentally friendly polymers and plastics. The potential impact of the invention on bioenergy markets was recently recognized with an award of a $1.6 million from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (US Department of Energy) to help scale up and commercialize the SPERLU ™ process.
Spero’s proprietary SPERLU™ technology produces polymers from plant-based sources, like wood pulp. The resulting polymers are renewable, much more environmentally friendly, free of emission, and formaldehyde-free vs. current polymers that come from petrochemicals and are manufactured with formaldehyde. Polymers are used in huge quantities for many industrial applications, including to make the particleboard that is used to manufacture furniture and laminate flooring. Spero claims to be the sole producer of formaldehyde free polymers.
The grant they received is part of a recently announced $80 million DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office initiative supporting 36 projects in bioenergy research and development. In addition to bio-based products, projects include renewable hydrocarbon fuels and power from non-food Biomass and waste feedstocks.
Commenting on the award, senior scientist Ian Klein, Ph.D. stated, “Through this work we are transforming a portion of biomass (lignin) which has been considered a waste material in the paper pulp industry for over 100 years, into valuable chemicals used in making polymers. Spero’s technology has been proven on the lab-scale and this award will allow us to increase the scale of our operations, producing larger volumes and studying the properties of our green chemicals and polymers. Commercialization of the SPERLU™ technology will finally allow for development of an integrated and profitable biorefinery, a major step forward in meeting the growing consumer demand for green products.”