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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Researchers at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) have developed sustainable flexible foam from algae oil. The foam has been further developed into a range of durable, algae-based flip-flops, named Triton Soles.
An estimated 3 billion pairs of plastic sandals are made globally each year. The flip-flops are non-biodegradable, and the polyurethane-based products pollute landfills, rivers, and oceans each year.
The algae-based flip-flops, Triton Soles aims to replace traditionally purchased footwear with a more sustainable option. Once the algae are collected, they are treated with solvents and heat to extract the oil. The oil is then chemically converted into polyol, a viscous liquid. The polyol is then mixed with a chemical to produce polyurethane. It is the ratio of this mixture that determines the rigidity of the resultant foam. Generally, a softer foam is preferred for the footbed, while a harder one is preferred for the bottom.
The polyurethane is poured into molds and baked to acquire foam soles. The resultant soles are trimmed and glued together, and then fitted with a strap.
Triton soles are biodegradable, with the ability to completely degrade in three months post disposal.
The research group aims to scale up the production of algae-based consumer products through a startup named Algenesis Materials that will launch Triton Soles as their first product.
The company is based out of La Jolla - California and its mission is to replace petrochemicals with renewable, sustainable, and biodegradable replacement chemicals made from algae and other nonfood plant sources. They aim at creating replacement materials for almost any petroleum based chemical. These replacement chemicals include: polyurethane foams and plastics, packaging materials, coatings, resins, polymer additives, specialty and life sciences chemicals, surfactants and cleaning agents, along with many others. By developing superior renewable - and biodegradable - products from bio-based material, Algenesis will help lead the way into a new era where we protect the planet that we live and play in while still making the most amazing products imaginable.
Triton Soles will soon be available for sale in commercial markets, but for now, they are only available in a limited number. The company will produce a few thousand test pairs before going into the commercial market. They have also created algae-based poly surfboard in collaboration with Arctic Foam, a surfboard company "dedicated to providing superior polyurethane surfboard foam".