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 Ocean Cleanup is a non-profit organization, developing advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic with the aim to clean up 90% of floating ocean plastic. By utilizing the ocean currents, corporations, and partnerships, to their advantage, their passive drifting systems are estimated to clean up half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years’ time.
Plastic pollution in the world's oceans is one of the biggest environmental issues of our time, impacting more than 600 marine species. According to the United Nations, plastic pollution is conservatively estimated to have yearly financial damage of 13 billion USD. The costs stem from the plastic’s impact on marine life, tourism, fisheries, and businesses. Plastic pollution does not only impact sea life, but it also carries toxic pollutants into the food chain – a food chain including us humans. A significant percentage of this ocean plastic drifts into large systems of circulating ocean currents, also known as gyres. Once trapped in a gyre, the plastic will break down into microplastics and become increasingly easier to mistake for food by sea life.
That is why The Ocean Cleanup is developing a passive system, moving with the currents - just like the plastic - to catch it. The system consists of a 600-meter-long floater that sits at the surface of the water and a tapered 3-meter-deep skirt attached below. Going after it with vessels and nets would be costly, time-consuming, labor-intensive and lead to vast amounts of carbon emission and by-catch. The floater provides buoyancy to the system and prevents plastic from flowing over it, while the skirt stops debris from escaping underneath. As the system moves through the water, the plastic continues to collect within the boundaries of the U-shaped system. The concentrated plastic will be brought back to shore for recycling and sold to B2C companies. The revenue gained will help fund the cleanup expansion to the other four ocean gyres.
The initiative begins to expand onto land plastic fulfilling Mission One and presenting their first plastic catch onshore, in Vancouver Canada. The plastic trash will be transformed into sustainable products that will be sold to help fund the continuation of the cleanup operations. To confirm the origin of these future plastic products, we have worked with DNV GL, an international classification society, to verify plastic that is removed from the ocean. Additionally, the cleanup aims to tackle the 1,000 most polluting rivers, responsible for about 80% of ocean plastic pollution, before the end of 2025.
As of October 2019, the cleanup was able to announce that System 001/B is successfully capturing and collecting plastic debris. After one year of testing, we have succeeded in developing a self-contained system in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is using the natural forces of the ocean to passively catch and concentrate plastic, thereby confirming the most important principle behind the cleanup concept that was first presented by Boyan Slat at a TEDx conference in October 2012.