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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Innovation challenge to find solutions to plastic pollution
The Klosters Forum and Think Beyond Plastic are launching the TKF Plastics Innovation Challenge.
Marine plastic debris is an economic, environmental, human health and aesthetic catastrophe, posing a multi-dimensional challenge to humanity, often compared to climate change in terms of impact, breadth and complexity. A challenge of this magnitude often inspires a surge in the search for solutions from people of all backgrounds, from business and public sector, academia and research as well as the general public.
In order to accelerate the search for solutions, The TKF Plastics Innovation Challenge 2019 aim at engaging innovators around the world in a solutions-oriented effort to stem the flow of plastics into our ocean.
New materials and green chemistry to replace current fossil-fuel based plastics and toxic plastisizers: For the most innovative solution in material, technology and green chemistry capable of preventing the flow of plastic pollution into the marine environment. We will consider a range of solutions, from early stage innovations to near-market solutions that have the potential to be manufactured to scale.
Waste reduction, avoidance & recycling in the reduction and or prevention of plastic pollution. For the most innovative and creative engineering solution, product design or social enterprise that will result in the reduction and or prevention of plastic pollution. Examples of product design include improved washing machine filters to reduce the influx of micro plastics from textiles; packaging design to minimize unnecessary single-use plastic waste; industrial design that minimizes plastic concentration in products; and innovations in recovery and sampling techniques/tools that allow for sampling of micro plastics smaller than 300 micrometers. Logistics may be part of this challenge (consumer goods).
Innovative product delivery systems: the most creative and innovative solution for delivering consumer products without single-use packaging. Examples may include product delivery as a service, including but not limited to refillable packaging, reusable packaging, for consumer dry goods and liquid products.
Scalable: is the innovation globally and / or commercially scalable?
Feasibilty: is the proposal feasible and supported by realistic cost estimates and funding models?
Collaborative: does the innovation incorporate global learning and experience?
Environmentally responsible: does the innovation consider the human and environmental costs of implementation?
Global: is the innovation globally relevant?
Proven Impact: does the innovation include a realistic impact assessment?
Innovative: is the innovation unique, distinct and truly original?
Award for the 3 winners:
$75,000USD: 3 awards of $25,000 USD each,
They will also receive a place in the 2019 Think Beyond Plastic acceleration class valued at $15,000 USD each,