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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Increasing Clarity Around Biodegradability

In a recent Sustainable Brands webinar, Lenzing Group and a panel of experts discussed the implications and applications of biodegradable alternatives to fossil-based plastic products such as wet wipes; as well as efforts to engage the public on their benefits.

Every year, 300 million tons of fossil-based plastic are produced — roughly half of these materials are used for the production of single-use applications such as packaging, bottles or wipes. When disposed of improperly, these synthetic materials can contribute to massive pollution of our environment, since it will take them hundreds of years to decompose. According to research done in 2017 by the European Union, the top 10 most polluting single-use plastic products represent 50 percent of marine litter on European beaches. Fossil-based plastic, however, can be found in every corner of the world — in the depths of the oceans, remote pathways in the forest, and even Arctic ice.

These alarming facts and figures show that we cannot continue as before. "#ItsInOurHands" to change for the better by educating consumers on more sustainable alternatives to fossil-based plastic products such as wet wipes — which is exactly what Sustainable Brands™, in cooperation with the Lenzing Group, set out to do through a recent Earth Day webinar on biodegradability.

Biodegradability: When theory meets reality

A panel of experts joined us for the webinar. Bruno De Wilde, from Belgium-based Organic Waste Systems, summarized biodegradability as: “… nature’s way of dealing with waste. It is basic biology — a biochemical process in which organic material is converted by microorganisms back to the mineral building blocks CO2 and water and also new biomass.” TÜV Austria Group’s Claude Wei clarified that biodegradability is a vague term, since microorganisms vary a lot in different environments; this indicates that a product that is biodegradable in soil might not biodegrade in water. For this reason, TÜV — which certifies biodegradable products — has created numerous certifications to specify the different environments where products are biodegradable or even compostable. Finally, Dimitri Deheyn, from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, shared insights derived from an ongoing project to understand product biodegradability in the oceans: “Microorganisms that are present are also driven by the natural environment in which they are — whether it’s temperature or the exposure to UV.”

Where VEOCEL™ fibers come in

Lenzing’s plant-based VEOCEL™ branded fibers are a sustainable alternative to fossil-based synthetic materials in nonwoven applications. Since VEOCEL fibers are made from the renewable raw material wood, they are part of the natural life cycle: The LENZING™ fibers have been certified biodegradable by TÜV AUSTRIA BELGIUM NV in all natural and industrial environments — including soil and compost, as well as fresh and marine water.

As Jürgen Eizinger — VP of Global Business Management, Nonwovens at Lenzing — explained: “When there is the VEOCEL logo on a product, then there are 100 percent biodegradable fibers in it.” The VEOCEL label helps consumers to make a sustainable choice at a glance; and, through its ItsInOurHands initiative, in partnership with Plastic Free World, Eizinger said Lenzing aims “to stimulate a change in the way people think and handle wet wipes. It is now time to generate greater awareness, and provide more education for people about environmental protection. Anyone can contribute to this — producers, brands, retailers, and most importantly perhaps consumers themselves.”