Walmart Foundation grant aimed at reducing plastic waste

Walmart Foundation grant aimed at reducing plastic waste

March 19, 2019
Marcia González

The University of Georgia New Materials Institute partners with industry and businesses to design materials for their use that are bio-based, fully biodegradable, or completely recyclable, and safe for people, animals and our planet

A recent US$800,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation to the University of Georgia New Materials Institute (UGA) is set to help researchers understand how multilayer plastic packaging biodegrades as well as help manufacturers in their attempts to design and select more sustainable materials.

The research funded by the grant will seek to yield both upstream and downstream solutions aimed at reducing the build-up of plastic packaging in the environment.

“It will help us examine how the selection of materials for flexible packaging influences the biodegradability of that plastic in different environments, as well as how the unique microbes that exist in these environments influence the biodegradation process,” explained Jason Locklin, director of the New Materials Institute and a principal investigator on the grant. “Our data will be used to propose new and logical standards to help find ways to manage packaging waste that is presently being thrown away or blown away.”

Multilayer packaging protects nearly half of the food produced from spoiling before it can be eaten, yet this complex packaging is also an extremely difficult material to recover and recycle. Currently, when two or more types of plastic are bound together to create this flexible packaging, the composite film either doesn’t biodegrade or biodegrades at a rate too slow to meet the requisite certification requirements that permit the manufacturer to claim its film will biodegrade (these requirements that vary by country).

There are numerous microbial environments in which plastic packaging – when comprised of the right materials – could fully biodegrade, including landfills, municipal waste water treatment plants and industrial composting facilities. The research team will therefore examine packaging biodegradability in all of these settings and propose new testing standards that governments and certification laboratories can adopt so that all flexible plastic packaging is subjected to rigorous, standard testing protocols.

The team will also conduct a nationwide assessment of existing waste management infrastructure to determine the most advantageous means of managing waste, including the proximity of composting, recycling and other waste-processing facilities to the communities they serve. As part of this assessment, the team will also consider whether additional infrastructure may be needed as new types of materials produced to replace conventional plastics begin to make their way into these waste and recycling streams.

“Tackling our plastics problem is going to require new approaches to the entire cycle of production, consumer use and disposal,” said David Lee, vice president for research at UGA. “We’re grateful to the Walmart Foundation for its support of research that aims to create benefits both for the environment and for the communities it serves.”

Plastic Free World Conference & Expo 2019 will take place from Thursday 27 June to Friday 28 June, at the Kap Europa, Frankfurt Messe, Frankfurt, Germany. To register for this highly focused and solutions-driven event, please click here. For sponsorship and exhibition opportunities, please email peter@trans-globalevents.com

 

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