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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VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd has developed a lightweight three-layered material solution that looks and performs like plastic, but does not pollute the environment and oceans like regular plastic as it is compostable and made from cellulose. The compostable plastic-like packaging material is suitable for dry food products like nuts, coffee, cereal and raisins, which need a long shelf life. The material has good barrier properties against gases, grease, mineral oils and moisture, which are essential properties for food packages.
The multi-layer packaging solution is built from two different cellulose-based transparent films that have complementary barrier properties and that make the solution a monomaterial. The films are processed in a way that does not introduce any unwanted or toxic chemicals and the solution is processable with existing film and roll-to-roll manufacturing machines and processes.
VTT´s bio-based solution is the result of decades of research and experience. They especially have a strong background working with forest biomass and packaging. The materials used in this development are very suitable for packaging and are widely used in cardboard. As there are no well-functioning bio-based materials with good barrier properties available in the food packaging market, VTT started to investigate the potential of cellulose for this purpose.
This material could be commercialized in 3 -5 years.
They won several awards including the Sustainability Awards 2018 Biobased packaging category at ScanPack in Gothenburg.