Frequently asked questions
What is the difference between your technology and an oxodegradable plastic as defined in the EU’s Single-Use Plastics Directive?A
The EU definition of oxodegradable plastics specifically defines the outcome of oxodegradable plastics as fragmentation to microplastics or chemical decomposition. Given that the outcome of using our technology in plastics has been proven to be biological decomposition to carbon dioxide, biomass and water (not chemical decomposition as in the EU definition) then it follows that Polymateria Masterbatches cannot be classed as oxodegradable. This process happens through a combination of (first) chemical and (subsequent) biological decomposition under ambient soil conditions. The differentiation is further evidenced by the granting to Polymateria of a worldwide patent on its formulations that demonstrate it being both novel and inventive to the trained eyes of the patent body experts.
Technology and innovation in our space has moved on quickly and will continue to do so given the impact of the plastic pollution problem. Policymakers will need to keep pace with these developments, which is why we’re collaborating with legislators around the world to update them on the latest rigorous biodegradation standards and definitions.
Aren’t you encouraging littering rather than recycling? How do you communicate that with consumers? Are you going to tell them that it’s a self-destructible plastic?A
The act of littering itself is illegal and would never be sponsored by a brand, retailer or technology. The message to a consumer contained within the packaging narrative is one that must be carefully considered for each individual product and is guided by ISO14021 and the local packaging laws in a given country. In our mission to go further, we wish to help drive the action of all parts of the supply chain and the end consumer to do the right thing. To this end, we provide the performance data and evidence to back the responsible disposal of a product, whilst helping to deal with any fugitive plastic where the risk is heightened.
It’s a positive message that the solution to fugitive plastic is very much in their hands. They can mobilise and increase pressure on global brands to take action. Previous plastics that have claimed to be ‘biodegradable’ haven’t delivered on their promise, which has held back efforts to fight fugitive plastic. Companies have made unverified claims on their plastic-based products for far too long, which has caused consumer confusion, frustrated the industry, and led to more damage to the circular economy and our planet.
We’re being really selective about finding the right brand partners to communicate the technology in the right way to get the right response from consumers. It’s our ambition to work with the packaging industry, as well as recyclers, NGOs and policymakers to drive towards 100% of packaging being recyclable and also biodegradable.
How does your technology work?A
Our proprietary Biotransformation technology is a bespoke approach to fundamentally redesigning plastic packaging at point of manufacture with some unique and fundamental differences to anything else that has been tried previously.
Packaging manufacturers can add the ‘drop-in’ Polymateria additive, which comes in pellet form, to their plastic resin during the manufacturing process. This additive is known in the industry as a masterbatch and it contains chemicals (we call them catalysts and cocatalysts). After a period specified by the manufacturer, the dormancy period ends and the catalysts in the masterbatch break down the hard crystalline and amorphous structure into a wax-like substance through multiple chemical reactions, achieving carbon-carbon bond scission and ensuring no microplastics are created. Our proprietary use of ‘synthetic’ prebiotics attract natural agents of decay like microbes, fungi and bacteria to fully consume the wax-like substance. The time-controlled feature allows for recycling and a ‘Recycle By’ date to empower consumers and encourage responsible disposal.
We have the only technology in the world that has proven full biodegradation (water, CO2 and biomass) of polyolefins on a range of commonly used packaging without any ecotoxicity issues. On a range of the most-littered forms of packaging – polyethylene and polypropylene – independent third-party laboratory testing showed 100% biodegradation on a rigid plastic container in 336 days and film material in 266 days. The process needed no industrial composting facilities and left zero microplastics behind, nor did it cause any environmental harm in the process.
Our product stewardship ensures we only work with pure materials capable of full and safe return to nature but also don’t damage the waste hierarchy of reduce, reuse and recycle. The technology has been developed in close collaboration with some of the most respected institutions and stakeholders in this field and has been proven at independent labs to be fully recyclable per guidelines from the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) in North America and Plastic Recyclers Europe (PRE).
What are some of the applications of your technology?A
Our technology works with a wide range of plastic types including:
- Injection moulded or thermoformed PP: such as you might find in clear plastic containers from a supermarket delicatessen.
- Injection moulded PP or LDPE: the lids of plastic bottles, for instance for soft drinks or cleaning products, are often made of this material.
- Mono and multi-layer PP, LLDPE, LDPE: thin plastic bags, the nets in which fruit is packaged and ready-meal wrappings are often made of this.
- Mono and multi-layer BOPP: candy wrappers, cigarette film, bakery products and flower sleeves.
- Non-woven PP: facemasks, tea bags and wipes.
Where can the bacteria be found? If it needs special additives, then doesn’t it have the same problem as bioplastics?A
Our proprietary use of ‘synthetic’ prebiotics attracts natural agents of decay like microbes, fungi and bacteria found in the natural environment to fully consume the wax-like substance. Our technology is designed to have multiple triggers to ensure the activation of the technology, rather than just one, all of which occur in the natural environment in conditions anywhere outside the polar regions. So UV light, air, moisture and microbes will all play a role in different stages to chemically transform the plastic into a biocompatible material. This process increases microbial colonisation and therefore aides the complete biodegradation of the plastic (to carbon dioxide, water and biomass).
If your technology was put in landfill and was not put under any UV light, would it still break down? And is there a danger that unless all plastics have your chemicals in them, that a lot of will end up in landfill?A
Unfortunately nothing biodegrades in landfill, and our technology is no different. There are technologies out there that claim to biodegrade in landfill, but landfills are mummified environments. They’re completely sterile. Instead, our focus is on the fugitive plastic – the 32% of all plastic that winds up in the natural environment. We want to address how you return that plastic to nature without causing any environmental problems, while equally giving recycling every chance to happen so that it doesn’t end up in the natural environment or landfill in the first place.
It’s true that of the four end states of plastic, landfill is the biggest and 40% of all plastic winds up in landfill. But at the same time, 32% of all plastic is fugitive and ends up in the natural environment – largely to do with unmanaged waste and littering. Interestingly, the biggest issue within that 32% of fugitive plastic is polyolefins (making up 31% of the problem), and that’s where we’ve deployed the technology first and where we’ve focused all of our innovation efforts. We wanted to figure out how you could return polyolefins to nature, but equally make the solution time-controlled to give recycling every chance to happen.
By adding your technology to plastics that are ultimately made from fossil fuels, don’t you simply extend and increase the demand for fossil fuels which is non-renewable energy?A
Rather than encouraging the proliferation of plastic use, we’re recognising the reality that plastic is in some instances is the only solution. This year we’ve seen how it’s being used for good in the likes of PPE to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. For the times and applications when plastic use is a necessity, any that escapes from the recycling system should have a safe, environmentally-friendly end of life.
How will your technology help in reducing the issue of marine plastics?A
There is such a wide range of marine environments and conditions within marine environments, for now, we are concentrating on technology and standards which tackle the problem of plastic waste on land. Most waste in the sea comes from unmanaged landfills, where plastic products are physically being broken down by weathering into microplastics. These fragments are then washed by wind and rain into rivers which carry them out to sea. By dealing with the problem on land first, we are addressing the largest source of fugitive plastics, before they splinter off into microplastics and become an even worst environmental hazard in our oceans and seas. Our ambition is that this design aspect, alongside our support for the improvement of waste management systems globally and an increase in recycling of plastics will create the variety of solutions necessary to deal with plastic pollution wherever it occurs.
What motivated the creation of the technology?A
If current trends continue, the total amount of plastics in the natural environment will reach 4 billion tons by 2050, with packaging accounting for roughly two thirds of this and polypropylene packaging alone contributing 130 million tons, according to 13D Global Strategy and Research. It’s estimated that a total of 32% of this plastic waste ends up in the ocean, with 68% remaining on land and that eighty percent of the plastic found in the ocean makes its way there after being dumped in unmanaged landfills: it isn’t dumped at sea. The scale and visible nature of the plastic pollution problem has captured public attention like no other environmental issue. However, current efforts are generally populist and reactionary, based on feel-good efforts that capture headlines, but aren’t addressing the full scale of the problem. Previous attempts to develop technologies which allowed plastics to biodegrade have only ever, at best, been partially successful. Our mission is to advance science to help nature deal with this plastic pollution crisis. It’s our belief that we’re the first company in the world to prove scientifically that you can take the most likely sources of fugitive or littered plastic and return them to nature without either creating microplastics or harming the natural environment or interfering with the recycling streams at scale.
How are you supporting the circular economy?A
We fully support the circular economy and the three-Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) but have also embraced a fourth R: Redesign. In order for the circular economy to work, products need to be designed with end of use in mind, and this concept has informed the development of our revolutionary technology.
While it’s positive that the scale and visible nature of the plastic pollution problem has captured public attention like no other environmental issue, current efforts are generally populist and reactionary, based on feel-good efforts that capture headlines. They aren’t addressing the full scale of the problem. Previous attempts to develop technologies which allowed plastics to biodegrade have only ever, at best, been partially successful.
As with most systemic problems, it takes a full and deep understanding of the issue itself and an appreciation for how we are successfully addressing other parallel challenges, like biodiversity loss and climate change in order to innovate and develop solutions that have a chance of succeeding. If you just consider your own agenda, innovation, product or service and try to push it out without shaping it based on a profound understanding of the complexity you are dealing with, you are destined to fail.
We have to appreciate the fact that our relationship with plastic needs to change fundamentally as well as acknowledging that legislators, media and industry haven’t had much confidence up until now. A large part of this is due to the lack of truly scalable solutions that take into account the full view of these complex issues. We believe that most people will do the right thing but have been incredibly confused by the ecolabelling jungle created around anything brands have judged to be reflective of the 3 R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle).
The industry also lacks pace. The UN is calling the next 10 years our “decade of delivery”. The incrementalism of ‘business as usual’ isn’t able to deliver exponential impact on these issues and growth at the same time. We need the incumbents on board, but working at a pace that is going to feel uncomfortable for them. We hope that this pace can be delivered by the emergence of green unicorns ($billion dollar valuation clean tech business) which is where exponential growth and impact have come from in the last ten years, but on this issue they will need to partner with the biggest existing players to succeed.