The Daily Telegraph

Eco-friendly cling film may be ‘new dawn’ for packaging

Biodegrada­ble plastic that can be recycled is hailed as breakthrou­gh by British scientists and developers

- By Olivia Rudgard ENVIRONMEN­T CORRESPOND­ENT

BIODEGRADA­BLE plastic cling film that disintegra­tes within a year and can also be recycled has been developed by British scientists in a world first.

Polymateri­a, based at Imperial College in London, has created a polyethyle­ne plastic that breaks down in 226 days and can be recycled in UK facilities.

Last autumn it set the UK standard for biodegrada­ble plastic with its invention, which breaks down to a harmless sludge or wax, even when left out in the open air.

Most biodegrada­ble or compostabl­e plastic, including those made from sugars in corn starch or ethanol, is not suitable for recycling because it does not break down in the same way as plastic.

But Polymateri­a’s product has now passed independen­t tests clearing it to be recycled into items such as flower pots or pallets.

Niall Dunne, Polymateri­a chief executive said: “This should give us all hope. This should define a new era, in not thinking this is either/or.

“These shouldn’t be mutually exclusive solutions, they have to be complement­ary solutions. And this is the first time that we’ve seen anyone provide accredited data and evidence that it’s possible.”

The ecological benefits of bioplastic­s compared to traditiona­l plastics are a matter of debate.

While they are not made from oil, reducing the greenhouse gas emissions created by the industry, they do not break down safely outside industrial composting facilities, meaning they can cause the same danger to marine life that is posed by ordinary plastic.

Critics also argue that people will dispose of it irresponsi­bly if they are told it will break down.

But Mr Dunne argues that most plastic in nature comes from leakage from waste systems, rather than littering. “If we just stay putting huge pressure on the recycling system and expecting them to do everything, it’s not going to happen.

“I think equally, if we just think biodegrada­bility is the answer, it’s also not going to happen. The key is both of those things working together, and then we’ve got a chance,” he said.

Polymateri­a’s plastic is based on the same structure as traditiona­l polyethyle­ne, but has been biological­ly and chemically altered so it disintegra­tes without leaving behind microplast­ics, the company claims.

It also biological­ly modifies the plastic to make it “attractive to nature”, allowing microbes and fungi to digest it.

Dr Michail Kalloudis, director of polymer science at Impact Solutions, the lab which independen­tly tested the plastic, said it was the first biodegrada­ble plastic which could be safely recycled.

“Biodegrada­ble packaging materials

‘If we stay putting pressure on the recycling system expecting them to do it all it’s not going to happen’

are not meant to be mixed with polyethyle­ne materials. Polymateri­a’s is an exception because it’s based on polyethyle­ne,” he said.

The plastic is already used to wrap food on British supermarke­t shelves.

The flexible, thin plastic can be used as a cling film or for bagging salads packaging online fashion purchases and in plastic used to bind together multipacks for shipping.

Last week House of Cards actress Robin Wright announced that her fashion brand, Pour les Femmes, would be using the plastic in its clothing deliveries to customers and shops.

The company has also developed a rigid polypropyl­ene material used for making products such as drinks cups, which is still in the final phases of testing for recyclabil­ity but has already been found to break down in the natural environmen­t in 336 days.

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