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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SWaCH is a cooperative of self-employed waste pickers who provide waste management, segregation and recycling services in Pune city in western India. SWaCH also works with companies, and partners with a packaged food company to recover multi-layered plastic waste.
SWaCH was formed out of a trade union of over 9,000 waste pickers in Pune, who sort through household waste, recover recyclable materials and sell it to recyclers. The cooperative was founded in 2008 after the union partnered with the city government to have waste pickers gather waste directly from households.
Its members currently cover 800,000 households every day – about 70% of the city. The members earn from fees paid by users, and from the sale of recyclable waste materials that they recover from the household waste, such as corrugated boards, plastics, metals and glass. The cooperative claims to help recycle70,000 tonnes of waste every year.
SWaCH runs specialized waste collection programs at events and schools. It also collects old clothes and unused items from households, which are repaired to be reused or sent for recycling. It collects electronic waste from companies, helping them meet their legal obligations for recycling such waste.
It has partnered with Indian snack foods company ITC to collect and recycle multilayered plastic waste. The waste pickers recover MLP from household waste and sell them at designated collection centres, from where they are transported to a central baling facility and then dispatched to recycling facilities. An average 4,314 kilogrammes of MLP waste was recovered every day in December 2019, as per the cooperative’s estimates.