Marine biodegradable plastics offer hope for oceans and waterways

August 18, 2018 |

With many people heading to the beach for their last hurrah of the season and red tide alerts along parts of Florida’s coast and seemingly, everywhere you turn, marine pollution is on the mind of late. While we can’t get the images of hundreds of dead fish out of your mind, we can at least offer hope for our oceans and waterways with the latest innovations and technologies to help improve the situations we are seeing on the news today.

Some companies like Disney, Starbucks and McDonald’s are working on alternatives to plastic straws and cups, for example, and moving to biobased plastics, but others are looking at the basic building blocks of bioplastics and finding ways to make them even better. While we covered many of these key players recently in “Plastics Proliferation Transitioning to Bioplastics Boost,” there is even more news of late, especially related to marine life.

Marine biodegradable plastic

One marine pollution solution was recently announced by Idaho-based BioLogiQ, Inc., a bioplastic resin manufacturing company, which developed its NuPlastiQ MB BioPolymer, produced by blending NuPlastiQ GP with PBAT (polybutylene adipate terephthalate).

The new plastic compound is BioLogiQ’s NuPlastiQ GP General Purpose BioPolymer which is a 100% natural, renewably-resourced, plant-based resin that has been certified by TUV Austria to marine biodegrade in 28 days. When PBAT is mixed with NuPlastiQ GP, it will also biodegrade in marine environments.

Test results showed the new bioplastic is marine biodegradable with a 97% biodegradation rate in ocean water within a one-year period, according to ASTMD6691 standards for marine biodegradability.

Brad LaPray, President and Founder of BioLogiQ, said, “Our ability to produce a marine biodegradable film using a material that was previously not marine biodegradable is a huge technical accomplishment that can significantly reduce both plastic marine debris and the negative effects this debris can have in our oceans.”

How’s that for hope?

He added that, “Given the current concern regarding plastics and ocean pollution, we are working on NuPlastiQ MB marine biodegradable formulations of NuPlastiQ GP with polyethylene and polypropylene. Our target applications are drink cups, straws, lids, and grocery sacks.”

When asked about certifying the new resin, LaPray said that, “The ability for plastics to biodegrade in a marine environment is so new and unusual that acceptable certification standards do not exist. We plan to work with industry and governments to develop new standards.”

BioLogiQ has come a long way from its 2011 roots of using excess starch from potato processing for bioplastics. According to BioLogiQ’s press release, their “goal is to help build a world free of pollution caused by fossil fuel-based plastics.”

In other good news as reported by the Digest in April, scientists at the Australian Institute of Marine Biology, successfully tested a biodegradable, super-thin “shield” that could be used to prevent coral bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef. The shield is made out of calcium carbonate—the same material found in coral skeletons—and is 50,000 times thinner than a human hair.

Ok, not ok

Not everyone thinks bioplastics are okey-dokey, hunky-dory and the answer to ocean waste problems. Take Greenpeace for example, which is concerned that bioplastics will contribute to the problem of marine waste and insists that the only solution is to reduce the use of plastics altogether.

“Over periods of days, weeks or even months, a bioplastic item could present just as much threat to marine life as a conventional plastic item,” Fiona Nicholls of Greenpeace tells The Hindu. Reducing the use of plastics is the only real solution, she adds.

Science estimates that 8 million metric tons end up in the ocean annually. A number of initiatives—ranging from government bans on straws and plastic bags to fast food packaging swaps based on bioplastics—have been introduced to address the issue.

Several experts, however, insist consumer behavior changes and not bioplastics are the solution. “People think that biodegradable means nothing is dumped in nature. But that’s not the case at all,” said engineer Virginie Le Ravalec of the French Environment and Energy Management Agency. Separate collection systems for bioplastics would be required.

Another example of things not being all hunky-dory with bioplastics is, as reported by the Digest in November 2017, 150 organizations in the United Kingdom that are calling for a ban on oxo-degradable plastic packaging because it falls short of protecting marine life from microplastics.

“The available evidence overwhelmingly suggests oxo-degradable plastics do not achieve what their producers claim and instead contribute to microplastic pollution,” Rob Opsomer of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation told TriplePundit. “In addition, these materials are not suited for effective long-term reuse, recycling at scale or composting, meaning they cannot be part of a circular economy.”

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind…

So what’s the solution to the marine pollution problem? Bioplastics? Overall plastic reduction? Both? As Bob Dylan so aptly said in one of his famous songs, “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.”

What exactly does that mean? Where is this answer that is blowing in the wind? How do we get it?

Bob Dylan had this insight to offer, “Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is but oh I won’t believe that. I still say it’s in the wind and just like a restless piece of paper it’s got to come down some …But the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not too many people get to see and know . . . and then it flies away. I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong and know it’s wrong.”

The good news is companies like BioLogiQ see the answer blowin’ in the wind and are grabbing it and doing something about it. We hope to see more companies like that making a difference to bring about marine pollution solutions.

And if you want to learn more about how you can make a difference in your day-to-day life, check out National Geographic’s “Top 10 Things You Can Do to Save the Ocean.” After all, “how many times can a man turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn’t see?”

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