Back in July 2017, China banned the import of 24 type of solid wastes including various types of plastic, paper, cardboard, and textiles. This imported waste accounted for 95% of all the plastics collected in Europe and 70% of US before the ban, among numerous other countries. 

A research published by the University of Georgia highlighted the fact that by the end of 2030, we will have 110 million tons of plastic waste abandoned by this ban that will have nowhere to go now. 

Many US cities are resorting to either dump this waste in landfills or feed it to incinerators. The waste that otherwise was sorted to be recycled, now mixed with other debris (food and other organic waste) becomes unfit for recycling. 

Majority of these countries neither have the necessary recycling capabilities nor the incentives for companies to take part in recycling. And when thrown in landfills, single use plastics like water bottles, straws, disposable cutlery, and other non-biodegradable waste stays there for years. 

Since recycling alone is not enough to save the planet, companies across the globe are quickly moving towards alternatives like Bio-plastics, cellulose, hemp, wood pulp to make their products biodegradable.  

These raw materials ensure faster degradability of dumped products and reduces the stress on the environment that comes after a product is thrown away. But there’s a catch in using these materials too. 

One of the most famous and widely adopted raw materials is Polylactic Acid (PLA). Derived from starch, corn starch, sugar cane, and other similar farm products by bacterial fermentation, PLA carries similar physical properties like plastic and is degradable. 

PLA over the time has quickly gained a lot of attention of consumer brands for manufacture their packaging products. From water bottles, to cutlery, almost every single use plastic product can be made using PLA. 

Is PLA alone that disruptive? what’s the catch? 

What’s stopping industries to fully adopt it as a preferred material to make their products? 

PLA is often marketed as being a 100% biodegradable polymer but in reality, it’s just degradable (not fully biodegradable). PLA plastic needs really specific environmental parameters like specific temperature and moisture ranges, or external microbial activity to degrade quickly.  

When products made using PLA reaches ocean or Landfills, they will degrade naturally but, lack of ideal environmental conditions stretches the degradation time to couple of years. This time is usually 6 months to 1 year in lab conditions. 

Since PLA is going to be used at such vast scales to replace plastic packaging and single use products, it is important for companies to keep this degradation time to minimum.

How are companies solving this? 

While researching about the market trends in sustainable packaging, I came across a patent filed by Carbiolice, a bioplastic research and manufacturing startup.

Carbiolice has come up with a biodegradable PLA based bottle infused with polymer degrading enzymes. 

This PLA bottle that will start degrading as soon as it reaches a compost material. The patent states that these polymer eating enzymes gets activated in a garden compost environment as well. 

A bottle will carry 1-10% of these enzymes pre-embedded in the material which will change based on what kind of product is being made. 

These bottles will be able to degrade in just 6 months (182 days) in as simple place as your backyard garden. So by the time these products will reach the dumping area or oceans, they’ll already be in their degradation phase, causing minimal to no nuisance to the environment. 

The patent talks about the manufacturing process as well and mentions how company is taking care of problems like - 

  • Appearance and aesthetics of manufactured products (surface roughness, thickness, etc)
  • Even distribution of enzymes for even degradation
  • An extra carrier material for these entities while production to protect the enzymes

This is just one disruptive example of how companies and organizations are researching and finding innovative solutions to make their products sustainable. 

Problems like these are quite common. For example, Hotel industry often struggle with dealing with leftover soaps, toothbrushes, and other toiletries. Dumping these causes serious environmental problems (soap and shampoo are toxic for marine animals). 

Another situation - food and beverage companies are dealing with finding the perfect materials that are sustainable and are suitable for storing food. Problems as minute as replacing non-degrading glue in tea-bags, to replacing plastic caps on soda bottles. 

When I came across the patent filed by Carbiolice, I was researching about similar problems faced by other companies and how they are solving it. 

Analysing the patent activity in this industry can help companies hit their sustainability goals by finding out how others are solving these problems. 

On that note, we have a webinar coming up about this specific topic. Here are a few of the many questions that we are going to answer in this session: 

  • How can you reduce non-biodegradable content in your packaging products?
  • Better alternatives to plastics and other non-biodegradable content in packaging materials and products.
  • What big and small players are doing to make their packaging products sustainable?
  • How can they achieve their sustainability goals by incorporating already available compostable materials in the market into their product?

Interested in finding the answer to any of the above question? Or want answers to your specific questions about how you can make your products both consumer and environment friendly?

Click here to register for the webinar.

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