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issue 05/2021

  • Text
  • Co2
  • Biocomposites
  • Nonwovens
  • Textiles
  • Wwwbioplasticsmagazinecom
  • Plastics
  • Renewable
  • Carbon
  • Packaging
  • Sustainable
  • Products
  • Fibres
  • Biobased
  • Materials
  • Bioplastics
Highlights: Fibres, Textiles, Nonwovens Biocomposites Basics: CO2-based plastics

Conference Review By:

Conference Review By: Alex Thielen One of hybrids new challenges for speakers – where is the camera? Networking is what me missed to desperately Online and on-site speakers respond to questions from the on-site and online attendees 2 nd PHA platform Almost 80 on-site and over 45 digital participants came together at the 2nd PHA platform World Congress in Cologne (Germany) to talk about PHA. Jan Ravenstijn supported the team from bioplastics MAGAZINE from planning to execution of the event. And when it comes to PHA(s) you couldn’t wish for a better partner in crime – there is nary a question about PHA he has no answer to (or at least know who to ask for more specific information). The topics presented were broad ranging from the huge variety of applications PHAs can be used for to specific in-depth reports about certain types of PHAs and the opportunities and challenges involved to broad topics such as ocean plastic waste or what biodegradability really means. With such a wide range of topics, it would be an impossibility to boil it all down to a two-page review. So we had to pick some highlights from on and off the podium to briefly showcase here. The issue of biodegradability When talking about biodegradability one question often pops up, why do it? Or asked differently, what is the added value? Because that is what it boils down to, what is the advantage biodegradability has over e.g., recycling. Pauline Ruiz from the nova-Institute (Hürth, Germany) showcased six PHA applications (out of 25 good examples) where biodegradability would be a true added value. And William Bardosh (TerraVerdae Bioworks, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) talked about the huge opportunities in the agriand horticultural sectors, touching on new quickly growing industries like medical Marijuana in Canada. However, there was also criticism about biodegradability claims. Lab studies usually work under optimum conditions, certifying the potential of biodegradation rather than working with real-life conditions. Yet, it is easy to judge plastics harder than they probably deserve – a banana peel would also not easily (or at all) break down in environments where no microorganisms are active. Other voices, like Marcus Eriksen (5Gyres, Santa Monica, CA, USA) talked about different conditions for biodegradability at the ocean floor, which are areas notoriously difficult to evaluated (e.g., if and how fast degradation takes place). However, the consensus that a couple of years or decades beats hundreds of years was also clearly there. The real problem of ocean plastics is not simply the amount of trash in the environment but also how microplastics enter into the food chain of animals – here it was argued if some PHA can be broken down by our bodies (due to biocompatibility) it would be possible that fish could break them down as well, do we even need to talk about marine biodegradability then? To communicate or not to communicate – that is the question The best place to start talking about communication would probably be with Bruno DeWilde (OWS, Gent, Belgium) who touched on the topic of biodegradation (the biochemical breakdown of a material) vs disintegration 12 bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/21] Vol. 16

World Congress Recap and highlights (the physical or visual breakdown or “disappearance” of a material), which lead to the problem that e.g. in California, USA, biodegradability has become a dirty word in part due to the problematic claims of “Oxo-degradable” plastics, which fall into the field of disintegration, not biodegradation – which is potentially very dangerous, as “out of sight, out of mind” does not erase the nano-plastic pollution created that way. How to properly communicate the messages of sustainability is one of the big modern challenges, and the topic of biodegradability is no different here. On the one hand, there is already a lot of confusion when it comes to bioplastics in the general population (as well as large parts of the plastic industry), on the other hand, it is often seen as a rival to recycling, which, in many cases, it simply is not. There are even some applications where it would be detrimental to “announce“ that a product is biodegradable, even if it would make a lot of sense. Two of these applications are chewing gum and cigarette filters. In both cases it would make a lot of sense to make them from biodegradable material, in both cases, it should not be communicated to the consumer – biodegradability is no licence for littering. This brings us to the topic of legislation, as political mandates could lead to an adoption of PHA materials in these fields. Legislative battlefields and the hills we choose to die on While presentations from China show the full optimism of the local industry in terms of growth, because legislation and government have “bought into” the idea of biodegradability, and thus materials like PHA, discussions for the European and American market were more diverse. Anindya Mukherjee (GO!PHA, Amsterdam, The Netherlands) talked about the difficulties PHA materials have faced in recent years and some EU judgments and bans that don’t necessarily improve the plastic waste problem. While it is true that PHA is very different from other (bio)plastics (with some even arguing it is not a plastic at all – which show more than anything the problematic image plastics have in the world), the real question is whether and where it makes sense to fight such EU judgments and for what reason. The example of single-use items and the connected ban of single-use plastics is a perfect example of how difficult this issue is. On the one hand, wood and paper products are not necessarily more sustainable or environmentally friendly than PHA, on the other hand fighting this fight might lead to an image problem of PHA. The single-use item marked would be a huge opportunity but choosing this battlefield might seriously harm the image of PHA as a sustainable and circular solution. Whether it is or not is not even the question here, but rather how it would look for a plastic to try to fight these bans and judgements – or as one attendee said during the panel discussion “single-use is the opposite of sustainable.” And on the surface, it does appear that way, more often than not the easiest interpretation of a problem is the one people believe. Humans are as lazy as they are allowed to be, and today we tend to want things cheap, easy, and yesterday. That means that we, the renewable plastics warriors (or wizards if you work in a lab) cannot be lazy and have to keep on working on how to get our message across – to legislators and the general population. So many topics – so little time With 28 presentations in two days, the 2nd PLA World Congress marathon was so packed with topics that it can make your head spin, next to all the topics and discussions touched on above we hand a plethora of other topics equally worthwhile. The possibilities of PHA in the medical sector range from dental replacements to Alzheimer medication. Then there were long and detailed discussions about material properties and how to get the sweet spot of crystallinity with Bas Krins (Senbis, Emmen, Netherlands) stating “you cannot have it all”, while Pablo Ivan Nikel (Novonordisk Foundation, Copenhagen, Denmark) talked about fluorinating PHA and the opportunities that might open, or Edvard Hall (Bioextrax, Lund, Sweden) who shone a light on the role and challenges of extraction of PHAs and how solvents come into play here. Overall, the topics touched on four main themes, each showed significant advancement: industrialization progress, application developments, technology developments, and environmental, legislative and regulatory matters. One last quote by Blake Lindsey (RWDC Industries, Athens, GA, USA), who gave one of the first presentations is still worth mentioning, “We should add REPLACE to reduce, reuse, and recycle.” This means replacing fossil-based polymers with these new biobased, natural, and bio-benign PHA-materials. But most of all, excellent communication on the subject is required to a much higher degree – this is the main challenge of the PHA-platform. So, I am forced to repeat Bas here and end this review, you cannot have it all, except that with us you can. We recorded everything, so if you missed the event and want to have a look yourself subsequent participation via video-on-demand is still possible. Interested parties should contact This sadly excludes face-to-face networking, but there is always another event – perhaps the bio!PAC in early November. Conference Review bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/21] Vol. 16 13

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