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Low-Carbon Biz

ECM BioFilms goes beyond recycling with biodegradable plastic

By Katrice R. Jalbuena

As the world seeks to cope with the reality of climate change, there are something’s we either have to learn to live without or find a way to change to better fit into the vision of a low-carbon economy.

One everyday thing that we can’t seem to live without is plastic. With the material forming the basis of so many essential parts and products that we use it would be impossible to rid ourselves of it completely. Yet, with its high environmental toll – contributing to both carbon emissions and the waste problem – it’s something we can no longer just use and dispose.

According to Robert Sinclair, president and chief executive officer of ECM BioFilms, there needs to be a paradigm shift to how we think of plastic.

“We don’t just have to make plastic better, we need to have a better end of life scenario for plastic products,” Mr. Sinclair told EcoSeed.

ECM BioFilms, tries to do just that with their MasterBatch Pellets, a plastic additive that makes plastic packaging and products fully biodegradable.

Mixing MasterBatch Pellets into standard plastic resins allows the resulting material to biodegrade in any biologically-active environment – including that of landfills.

“All they need to do is put an additional one percent of our additive and when they put that in there, this plastic product that normally is not biodegradable in any way, shape or form, becomes biodegradable,” said Mr. Sinclair.

There is also no toxic residue and plastics using MasterBatch pellets are certified by the American Food and Drug Administration for food contact.

According to Mr. Sinclair, you can find examples of plastics using their additive in every continent except Antarctica.

A better end of life scenario

By allowing plastic to biodegrade in landfills, ECM BioFilms presents a cradle to cradle lifecycle for plastic products allowing for a better end of life scenario.

Plastic made with MasterBatch pellets can be metabolized into biomass by the microganisms commonly found in nature. While in use, the biodegradable plastics shelf life is infinite, degradation only begins at time of disposal, when it comes into contact with other biodegrading material.

The long hydrocarbon chains of the polymers are easily broken down by the microorganisms and methane is produced. If the plastic is disposed of properly in a landfill with waste-to-energy technology, it then has another life as an energy feedstock.

“It is not an alternative to recycling,” stressed Mr. Sinclair adding that ECM BioFilms believes that recycling is important and makes economic and environmental sense.

What ECM BioFilms does is ensure that a plastic product is no longer waste. If it falls to the ground or in the ocean, it will biodegrade and not contribute in the long term to the waste project, and if it ends up in a land fill, it is recycled and reused.

A different way of recycling

“We allow for the carbon that makes up the polymers of plastic to be recycled in a different way. That carbon is allowed to come out of the landfill in the form of methane which is going to be collected and used for energy,” Mr. Sinclair explained.

According to Mr. Sinclair, more and more landfills are looking to collect and use the methane gas collected by waste, seeing them as a renewable energy source and a renewable source of chemicals.

“We enhance that, because now, not only do you have the general organic stuff that’s being thrown into a landfill that can biodegrade, you have an additional amount of biodegradable waste [plastics] and therefore you’re really increasing the output of methane,” said Mr. Sinclair.

It’s estimated that about sixty percent of waste in a landfill is naturally biodegradable while around 12 to 15 percent is plastic. If this 12 to 15 percent is biodegradable plastic, the landfill could increase its output of methane by around 18 to 20 percent.

“It’s a real cradle to cradle type thing, a different way of recycling that polymer,” said Mr. Sinclair.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, plastics make up more than 12 percent of the municipal solid waste stream with around 31 million tons of plastic waste generated in 2010. Of these 31 million tons, only 8 percent was recovered for recycling.

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