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
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.