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 Recycling Partnership is a USA-based national non-profit aimed at encouraging and transforming recycling across the country, improving the quality of recyclables and ensuring that they enter the recycling system.
In a 2016 report, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition Centralized Study discovered that only 53% of the US population has access to recycling at their homes, with only 44% provided with recycling carts. The Recycling Partnership aims to tackle this by engaging businesses and communities to positively impact the recycling process and benefit the environment and the people simultaneously.
They engage the entire supply chain from manufacturers to consumers, along with local governments, material recovery facilities (MRFs) and converters. This makes it the only organization positively influencing recycling at every step of the process. The organization drives sustainability in four major areas:
Grants, Technical Assistance and Tools: funds are invested in developmental projects and community programs. Tools for assistance and guidance in recycling are created for recycling initiatives.
Research and Measurement: studies are carried out by a team of experts nationwide, to measure current conditions and explore better quality recyclables.
Partnerships: a number of private and public sector organizations are partnered with to facilitate holistic development of recycling, benefiting communities and the environment.
Scale: projects and achievements are communicated to the general public at a large scale to increase coverage of the adoption of best practices.
So far, The Recycling Partnership has served over 1000 communities, placed over 590,000 recycling carts and reached out to 50 million households. The organization has also assisted with investments of more than $37 million in recycling infrastructure.
A number of projects have been developed by the organization, like DIY Signs - an online sign tool to facilitate correct sorting and Recycling 2.0- a 3-step process to achieve circularity through recycling.
In 2019, The Recycling Partnership invested $1 million to assist the West Coast in building an effective recycling system. The project will contribute towards establishing the Circular Economy Accelerator.