In life and industry there are always many changes. Standards often feel like a confusing burden. However, they are a checklist we can use to remind ourselves of what we are trying to achieve.
Even for scientists who study environmental issues, nobody is born knowing. We learn as we observe and we learn from the observations of others. Standards are both a checklist to remind us of our objectives and a written summary of the objectives we have commonly agreed are important.
With biodegradable plastics, there are several objectives we are trying to accomplish:
Elimination of petroleum use: switch from petroleum to renewable feedstocks
Non-toxic biodegradability: ensure biodegraded material does not harm soil pH, microbial life, plants, insects, aquatic species, birds and fauna, release air contaminants, or harm humans (especially in food packaging)
Reduced energy consumption: even if we are using renewable fuel, we make little progress if we are using production processes that waste energy and energy drives up the cost of the finished product
Reduced raw material consumption: especially with organic feedstock, we want to ensure we are consuming less than what is available so that there is feedstock available for the next century (sustainability)
Reduced costs: improving the affordability of plastic products while simultaneously improving their quality results in improved quality of life for consumers
Improved material performance (e.g. tensile strength or flexibility): since we are working on innovation, current material performance standards should be at least as good as what is currently available in industry but we may as well simultaneously invest in improvement
Improved interoperability: the ability to re-use plastic in the Circular Economy
Compatibility with existing machinery and equipment: we cannot afford to completely re-tool manufacturing systems in order to produce biodegradable plastics
A more detailed summary of the standards and issues to consider can be found here:
A Review: Investigation of Bioplastics - Semantic Scholar
Bioplastics and the Future of Food Packaging
At CSTI, we are learning through practice just like everyone else.
What we discover over the next 5 years will inevitably need to be improved in 15 years. This is why scientific R&D is a continuous learning process. We welcome information on any standards not mentioned.
Feel free to share your learning journey on biodegradable plastics so that the African community of practice gains the recognition it deserves.