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Next Gen Biodegradables

Packaging, especially food packaging, is the key contributor to waste in the world. The average person in the EU discards up to 160kg of packaging waste a year of which, less than 50% is recycled. With over 80kg of each person’s discarded packaging going to landfill each year, it’s clear why some companies are taking an active effort to do something about the waste that ends up at landfill, in our oceans or on our streets.

To put it more accurately, they’re actually making it so that the waste reduces itself.

Biodegradable plastic is by no means a brand new concept. It’s been around for years. It’s always had some kind of inherent flaw that makes it completely unsuitable for the tasks that we need it for. Most biodegradable plastics would begin to degrade from UV light or moisture; both are unavoidable elements in food and drink applications.

New developments in biodegradable plastics aim to avoid these issues altogether. Italian Biotech firm Bio-on has developed a bioplastic called PHA (Polyhydroxyalkanoate), which is made from processing agricultural waste materials. The ‘plastic’ is 100% biodegradable in soil and water and, when combined with suitable nanofillers, can act as an electrical conductor. The firm aims to use this technology to reduce the 50millions tons of waste electronics discarded every year as well as using it to reduce general packaging waste.

We still have a long way to go though, tests are required to ensure that as packaging degrades it doesn’t release toxins into a potential food source and that the packaging only begins to degrade after the content’s shelf life has ended.

Whilst ‘biodegradable’ should never be mistaken for ‘compostable’, biodegradable is a giant step forward for certain plastics when compared to the alternative – 1000s of years of degradation if they degrade at all. Biodegradable plastics reduce space taken up in landfill and reduce the risk of harm to wildlife through choking and asphyxiation.

For these plastics to become mainstream, the consumers need to overcome their fear of the unknown, their fear that a slightly cloudy plastic bottle is bad and that an imperfect carton is a problem.

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