Challenges and Solutions to Plastics Pollution in the Ocean

Captain Charlie Moore, founder of the Algalita Marine Research and Education Institute, recently published an Op-Ed article in the New York Times on plastics pollution in the ocean. Kudos to Captain Moore for increasing visibility around this important issue.

According to the 2014 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, 20-40 billion pounds of plastic waste end up in the world’s oceans every year. Once in the ocean, traditional plastic does not go away. It doesn’t biodegrade. It does break down over time through the combined effects of wave action and sunlight, indirectly becoming a source of fine plastic particles that linger and float in the ocean. These “microplastics” or “plastic microbeads” can act as carriers for chemicals and other pollutants that may enter into the food chain upon ingestion by marine organisms.

A view of plastic pollution on Kamilo Beach.  Photo courtesy of Algalita.org

A view of plastic pollution on Kamilo Beach. Photo courtesy of Algalita.org

There are also direct sources of microplastic particles that end up in the oceans after their intentional use in personal care products such as toothpaste and skin care products and industrial applications such as adhesives and inks. Single-use personal care products are washed away after use and their non-degradable ingredients, from microplastic powders & water soluble plastic additives to synthetic wax ingredients, pass through waste treatment facilities. These same ingredients in industrial applications are not often capable of being recycled effectively. Ultimately much of these man-made microplastic ingredients end up accumulating in the oceans and lakes.

By far the largest source of plastic ending up in the oceans according to the UNEP study, and indirectly also the largest source of microplastic particles, is from land-based sources of plastic litter and lost commercial fishing gear. Tens of billions of pounds of plastic litter wind up in the oceans every year compared to the tens of millions of pounds global market for intentional man-made, non-biodegradable microplastics used in consumer and industrial applications.

The findings from this UNEP study target the largest sources of pollution and appropriately suggest reinforcing programs to tackle litter and improve recycling and reuse of plastics materials. Replacement of synthetic, non-biodegradable man-made microplastic beads with natural, biodegradable materials or elimination altogether is also recommended and well within the ability of suppliers to influence. Many brands have responded leading the way to develop products containing alternative natural and biodegradable micropowder materials. Legislation requiring alternatives is also gaining momentum as consumer sentiment turns.

Our solution: polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) marine degradable, renewable micropowders. Metabolix PHA biopolymers are unique in that they perform as well as synthetic, non-biodegradable microplastic powders, but biodegrade rapidly in marine and freshwater environments (within a couple of weeks) where microbial activity is present. These products are certified to meet ASTM D7081 standards for marine biodegradability.

Metabolix PHAs made with natural raw materials have been shown by independent labs to biodegrade rapidly in natural marine environments.

Metabolix PHAs made with natural raw materials have been shown by independent labs to biodegrade rapidly in natural marine environments.

UNEP’s report aimed to assess the overall impact of plastic pollution by defining a common monetary basis or ‘natural cost’ to express the scale of environmental damage, commercial fishing and tourism losses, and the cleanup burden on society. The 2014 report calculated the annual ‘natural cost” for plastic pollution specific to marine ecosystems at US$13 billion. Clearly, any plastic that ends up deliberately or inadvertently in our
marine environment has a very high natural cleanup cost associated with it that is not reflected in the price of these plastic products today.

Learn more about Metabolix PHA here. Check back on our blog for updates on this important topic.

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Renewable PLA Fibers for Single-use Products

Biobased PHA Additives Improve Touch and Feel of PLA

We’ve written before about the improvements that Metabolix additives are able to bring to polylactic acid (PLA). One area of focus for our team has been to improve the performance of PLA fibers. Our additive strategy in PLA rests on a demonstrated capability to improve the performance (for example, the “hand” in the case of fibers), and providing value by helping companies to grow their renewable filament, fabric, and nonwoven offerings. The Metabolix advantage comes from doing so cost effectively and without compromising the renewable and compostable nature of the product. Continue reading

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Illinois first to enact law to ban microbeads from personal care products

Momentum is building; Uniform definition of marine degradable alternatives needed

In a post earlier this year, we documented many of the post-consumer problems with microbeads, those tiny synthetic plastic particles that are commonly used as an ingredient in personal care products but mostly go unseen because they’re so small. These particles are practically impossible to recycle and are generally washed down the drain after use, yet not easily recoverable in water treatment systems. They are typically made from non-biodegradable synthetic plastics that will linger as pollution when ending up in the environment. They often float in water, collecting in lakes, rivers and oceans, and potentially endangering marine life that can mistake them for food where they can then enter the food chain. Continue reading

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Improving Performance and Versatility of PLA with PHA Additives

Metabolix has developed new proprietary polyhydroxalkanoate (PHA) copolymer technology that extends the range of MirelTM PHAs, allowing us to serve exciting new opportunities.

Metabolix strategy focuses on demonstrating the performance and value that Mirel PHA polymers can bring to target applications. This performance is often characterized by the physical properties of the polymer such as crystallinity and rheology, and by the property enhancements that the PHA can bring to other materials. Continue reading

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Working towards a truly degradable coffee cup: Metabolix PHA latex for paper coating

Every morning, millions of people stop into their coffee shop of choice and walk out with a much needed cup of coffee. At that time of the day, what we care most about is the contents of the cup, and probably don’t give much thought to what the cup is made of, beyond “paper.” After finishing that hot cup of coffee, if you were to take a moment to consider the cup, you might notice that the inside surface has a slight shimmer to it, the shimmer of a plastic or latex coating layer. Continue reading

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Innovative Biopolymers Coming to Interpack

Preparations for the Interpack 2014 tradeshow started before we had even returned from K2013 in Düsseldorf last October. Knowing that we’d be back in just six short months, we were already sharing notes on how to top our success when we returned for Interpack.

The opportunity to return to Düsseldorf to focus on the advantages our biopolymers bring to the packaging industry has been exciting and rewarding. Continue reading

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Metabolix returns to Düsseldorf for Interpack: Biopolymers offer advanced packaging solutions

We are excited to return to Düsseldorf this year to highlight the variety of innovative biopolymer products we offer to the world of packaging at the world’s leading packaging and plastics processing trade fair, Interpack 2014. From May 8 -14, we will join more than 2,500 fellow innovators from 60 countries around the globe to disseminate the best and brightest ideas, concepts and technological visions for the future of plastic packaging. Continue reading

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Microbeads and the PHA Solution

Microbeads are in the news. They are components in everyday personal care and cleaning products such as shampoos, cosmetics and cleansers. Microbead sizes range from less than 10 microns to hundreds of microns and have a range of shapes – spherical and irregular. These fine powders are typically made from synthetic polymers such as polyethylene, polypropylene or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)—each selected specifically for the size, shape and consistency they provide to the recipe—and serve to improve the touch and feel of personal care products or aid in their manufacturing. So why is this ingredient in particular garnering such attention in the news and from numerous advocacy groups? Continue reading

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Metabolix at K 2013: Performance Additives and Compostable Resins made for a great show

K2013 is over and looking back I can say that for Metabolix it was an effective show. We went there to promote new product lines and to increase overall customer awareness. Perhaps even more importantly we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to be available to meet face to face with current and interested prospective customers from around the world. Finally, the show while strongly European is a global show broadly covering the value chain and so a good opportunity to see which directions the industry innovation is heading. Continue reading

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K 2013 and Metabolix: Innovative Solutions and Trendsetting Products

We’re in the homestretch for K2013.  The booth is done, the in-booth video is done, the production of samples and giveaways are done, and scheduling meetings with customers is in full swing.   In just 10 days, the US-based Metabolix team will be heading to Düsseldorf to join our Cologne-based biopolymers team for the show. Continue reading

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