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  • University of Georgia awarded Walmart Foundation for biodegradability study


    An $800,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation to the University of Georgia New Materials Institute will help researchers understand how multilayer plastic packaging biodegrades and also help manufacturers in their attempts to design and select more sustainable materials.

    aThe research funded by the grant will seek to yield both upstream and downstream solutions aimed at reducing the buildup of plastic packaging in the environment.

    “The grant will help us examine how the selection of materials for flexible packaging influences the biodegradability of that plastic in different environments, and also how the unique microbes that exist in these environments influence the biodegradation process,” said Jason Locklin, director of the New Materials Institute and a principal investigator on the grant. “Our data will be used to propose new and logical standards to help find ways to manage packaging waste that is presently being thrown away or blown away.”

    Multilayer packaging protects nearly half of the food produced from spoiling before it can be eaten. This complex packaging is also extremely difficult material to recover and recycle, said Locklin. Currently, when two or more types of plastic are bound together to create this flexible packaging, the composite film either does not biodegrade or it biodegrades at a rate too slow to meet certification requirements that allow the manufacturer to claim its film will biodegrade; these requirements vary by country.

    There are numerous microbial environments in which plastic packaging—when comprised of the right materials—could fully biodegrade, including landfills, municipal wastewater treatment plants and industrial composting facilities. The research team will examine packaging biodegradability in all of these settings and propose new testing standards that governments and certification laboratories can adopt so that all flexible plastic packaging is subjected to rigorous, standard testing protocols.

    The team will also conduct a nationwide assessment of existing waste management infrastructure to determine the most advantageous means of managing waste, including the proximity of composting, recycling and other waste processing facilities to the communities they serve. As part of this assessment, the team will also consider whether additional infrastructure may be needed as new types of materials produced to replace conventional plastics begin to make their way into these waste and recycling streams.

    The other principal investigators on the project are Jenna Jambeck, who leads the institute’s Center for Circular Materials Management, and Evan White, an assistant research scientist. Jambeck is an associate professor in the College of Engineering. Locklin is a professor of chemistry and biochemical engineering who is jointly appointed to the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of chemistry and the College of Engineering.

    “Tackling our plastics problem is going to require new approaches to the entire cycle of production, consumer use and disposal,” said David Lee, vice president for research at UGA. “We’re grateful to the Walmart Foundation for its support of research that aims to create benefits both for the environment and for the communities it serves.”

  • Sealed Air, Kuraray invest in new production capacity for Plantic™ plant-based food packaging


    Sealed Air Corporation is investing in capacity at its Simpsonville, S.C. facility to produce plant-based food packaging. This facility will be the first in North America to produce materials made from Plantic™ plant-based resin and post-consumer plastic.

    aSimpsonville is one of the world’s largest packaging plants with over 1,000 employees and 1.4 million square feet of operations. Packaging materials and systems for food and consumer products are currently manufactured at this location.

    “This investment also helps us reach our commitment to deliver 100% recyclable or reusable packaging offerings, and 50% average recycled content across all packaging solutions by 2025.”
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    In June 2018, Sealed Air and Kuraray America, Inc. (Kuraray), a specialty materials company with headquarters in Japan, entered into an agreement to offer Plantic materials to package perishable foods such as poultry, beef and seafood in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

    Sealed Air’s planned capital investment of $24 million is underway and production is scheduled to begin in the second quarter of 2020. To support this work, Kuraray is investing approximately $15 million to install plant-based high barrier resin production and supporting capabilities in Houston, Texas. Kuraray’s resin plant is scheduled to be completed at the end of September 2019 and will begin operating in early 2020.

    “This collaborative effort with Kuraray expands our ability to deliver innovative, sustainable food packaging solutions that leave our world, environment and communities better than we found them,” said Ted Doheny, Sealed Air President and CEO. “This investment also helps us reach our commitment to deliver 100% recyclable or reusable packaging offerings, and 50% average recycled content across all packaging solutions by 2025.”

    As upgrades to both facilities progress, Sealed Air, under the agreement with Kuraray, will continue to serve customers in North America by importing materials from Plantic Australia. The investment positions both companies for strategic growth in the Americas as demand for sustainable materials continues to increase.

    “Kuraray continues to pioneer proprietary technology to develop new fields of business, grow globally and improve the environment,” stated Katsumasa Yamaguchi, General Manager of the Global EVAL Division. “We are looking forward to this collaborative investment with Sealed Air which allows us to produce and offer a high-performing plant-based packaging option to the food industry on a much larger scale.”

  • PHA water bottle coming soon


    It may sound like California Dreamin' but a new bottle, manufactured and marketed in California under the brand name Cove, is the first bottle of water made entirely of biodegradable material, say its makers.

    aThe material the bottle is made of is PHA, which will break down into CO₂, water, and organic waste. This will happen in compost or a landfill, and even in the ocean.
    PHA, or polyhydroxyalkanoate, is an FDA-approved, naturally occurring biopolymer. It’s biodegradable, compostable, produces zero toxic waste, and breaks down into CO₂, water, and organic waste.
    To accurately determine the time frame in which this will happen, Cove is currently doing extensive testing across a range of different scenarios. According to the most conservative estimate right now, a Cove bottle will take five years to biodegrade in soil; but of all the possible environments to consider, 100% soil is one of the environments least conducive to biodegradation. It is also extremely unlikely that a Cove bottle will be fully buried away from the organic waste found in landfills and composts. Biodegradation in compost, landfills, and the ocean will likely happen much sooner than five years.

    Cove is not being yet produced at scale. However, according to its makers, all manufacturing, filling, and packing for the California launch will take place in LA to minimize the environmental impact of the bottle’s production.
    “As Cove expands, we will set up multiple manufacturing and packing facilities across the US. This will allow us to localize production and minimize transportation. Cove is not interested in shipping bottled water across oceans and continents,” said the company.

    It added that ‘Cove will carefully select manufacturing and distribution partners as we expand’.

    “This means making sure potential partners uphold the highest environmental standards and participate in the following where possible in their processes: renewable energy use, carbon offsetting, and other environmental stewardship programs,” said the company.

    Some manufacturers have produced PHA derived from carbon dioxide and methane, the main greenhouse gases. Cove's long-term vision is to move to this method in order to produce carbon negative bottles.

    Cove is launching in California in 2019.

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