A UK company is working on the development of a new manufacturing process for plastic that will see the material decompose harmlessly in the natural environment, with an additive mixed in with normal plastics to create packaging, shrink wrap, bubble wrap, plastic bags and so on.
The products can be recycled in the same way that they are now, but if they do find themselves in landfill sites or littered, eventually making their way into our waterways, they will then decompose into harmless waxes in just a couple of months, National Geographic reports.
These waxes can then be digested by bacteria and fungi, which will break them down into water, carbon dioxide and microbes, leaving no microplastics behind.
Polymateria is calling this process biotransformation, with the technology now being tested in numerous countries, including the UK, with the hope being that it could transform the packaging industry and the amount of waste consistently produced.
According to the company’s CEO Niall Dunne, one type of plastic in particular is problematic – and that’s polyolefins. These include polyethylene (so packaging and plastic bags) and polypropylene (such as bottle caps, containers and plastic cups and cutlery).
Research from the organisation in 2016 estimated that at least 42 million tonnes of polyolefin packaging finds its way into the natural environment every year – and this number is growing.
Mr Dunne explained that consumers will be encouraged to recycle the products initially, with a recycle by date stamped on each piece. But if this packaging does eventually become litter, it will biodegrade anyway once it’s exposed to the elements.
He said: “In lab tests that mimic ambient real-world conditions, our polyethylene waxes will go back to nature in 226 days and our polypropylene waxes in 336 days.”
Mr Dunne went on to say that he believes people will “do the right thing” when it comes to the waste they produce, but that they have been very confused by the “eco-labelling jungle” that has been created around packaging.
In the UK, a new plastic packaging tax has just been introduced, which will apply to all that which has been produced in or imported into the country that isn’t made up of at least 30 per cent recycled plastic.
It will most likely have an impact on importers of plastic packaging, producers of it, business customers and consumers who buy products in plastic packaging in the UK.
There will, however, be exemptions made for producers and importers of small amounts of this kind of packaging, in a bid to mitigate against disproportionate administrative issue in relation to the tax liability.
It’s hoped that the tax will give businesses economic incentives to use recycled materials in production processes, which will help drive demand for this material.
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