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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VolCat, which is short for Volatile Catalyst, is a chemical recycling process developed by IBM to digest and convert PET plastics and polyesters back into feedstock for plastics manufacturing.
Nearly 8 million tons of PET plastics waste enters the oceans every year. PET plastics form about 10% of all plastics produced each year and are used as bottles in beverage and food industries. They are often rejected in recycling processes require clean and non-colored materials.
VolCat process begins with heating grounded-up waste to 190 degrees Celsius along with ethylene glycol and the catalyst. This depolymerises the plastic.
Then, the material is cooled to 100 degrees Celsius and filtered. The solid monomer is recovered, corresponding to about 75% of the total input. The monomer is Bis(2-Hydroxyethyl) terephthalate or BHET, which can be used to make PET plastics.
The remaining solution and catalyst are recovered by distillation and reintroduced in the system.
The researchers aim to replace petroleum-based catalysts currently used in reactors that break down polyester plastics.
The feedstock includes PET plastics and even clothes and carpets made of polyester. It can accept dirty waste. The process produces high grade recycled PET even from low-grade mixed post-consumer resin of PET.
The process aims to make plastics recycling simpler and more widespread. It does not require washing and sorting processes used in conventional mechanical recycling, thus saving on costs.
IBM claims that the process is also cheaper because it is a closed-loop process in which chemicals can be recovered and it runs on low temperatures.
IBM is looking to launch pilot projects with industry and academic organizations, and experts to further develop the process.