The only technology in the world that makes conventional plastics biodegradable in landfills, anaerobic digesters, compost facilities, and the ocean.
At Earth Nurture, we are dedicated to seeing that more and more of the plastic disposable items we use every day rejoin the cycle of life. We sell Earth Nurture masterbatch additive for rendering conventional plastics biodegradable in commercial compost facilities, landfills, anaerobic digesters, and in natural bodies of water.
Earth Nurture has a masterbatch additive for every common plastic, and many uncommon ones. Earth Nurture has a masterbatch additive that will cause the biodegradation in landfills of: Polypropylene (PP,) Polyethylene (PE,) Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE,) High Density Polyethylene (HDPE,) PET ( Polyethylene terephthalate ,) Polystyrene (PS,) Expanded Polystyrene (EPS, sometimes called Styrofoam, which is a trademarked brand of EPS,) Nylon, and even Polylactic Acid (PLA.)
(A masterbatch additive is an additive which is added to the masterbatch, which is the plastic as it is being melted for final fabrication into sheets or molded products.)
Biodegradable Plastic Technologies Available - A comparison
Table Demonstrating Aerobic Biodegradation of ENA-Treated LDPE Sample
The History of Biodegradable Plastics
Because there are a number of different approaches to biodegrading plastic, and because people have developed so many misconceptions about biodegradable plastics, I have written a brief history of biodegradable plastics. There have been three generations of biodegradable plastic. The first was starch based plastic, PLA, almost always made out of corn. The second generation was oxo-biodegradable conventional plastic, and the third, the current generation, is microbiodegradable conventional plastic.
PLA, or corn-based biodegradable plastic
PLA, or corn-based biodegradable plastic, was said to be the first generation of biodegradable plastic, even though its primary manufacturer, Naturworks, states that it will not biodegrade in any natural environment, nor in landfills. PLA, Poly Lactic Acid, biodegrades only in commercial compost facilities - and many commercial compost facilities refuse to accept PLA. It is made and promoted by corporate giants that have huge financial and political power, such as Cargill, Inc., but it has many drawbacks.
It is billed as ***'sustainable,' as it is based on food sources, primarily corn. However, if all of the disposable plastic products in the world were made out of corn, 238,500,000 tons of corn would be used to make plastic. Prices for corn would rise dramatically, and third world hunger would increase even more dramatically. There are currently 1,000,000,000 hungry people in the third world, says the UN. If the amount of plastic disposables, such as packaging and drinking cups from fast food stands used in the US each year were all made of corn, it would take 18% of the country's farm land to fill the need. That is enough food to feed over 600 million people, people who need that food desperately. If we imagine their condition worsening only slightly, the result could only be a humanitarian catastrophe of appalling proportions. That is the real ramification of 'sustainability' in today's world.
Furthermore, PLA isn't a very good plastic. It imparts an off taste to water when used for water bottles, it melts when used as soup spoons, it's weak, and therefore items made of it are heavy, and it has a short shelf life, sometimes becoming a sticky mess while still in the warehouse. What's more, no recyclers accept it for recycling except the company that manufactures it, which ships it across the US to its one recycling center. In fact, recyclers that don't manufacture PLA, dislike PLA and are trying to ban it, because it gets confused with more conventional plastics, and ruins their recycled plastic batches.
Even the few commercial composters which accept PLA products have a limited appetite for PLA, because it adversely affects the compost batch as too much PLA makes the compost too acidic. One bottle manufacturer did a survey of commercial composters and found that 90% of those surveyed would not accept PLA bottles. Furthermore, PLA cannot be composted by home composters - PLA requires elevated heat beyond what home compost processes generates to compost. The most peculiar thing about calling PLA compostable, is that it leaves no residue in compost, and so it gives no contribution to humus. The ASTM standard for compostable plastic, ASTM D6400, actually requires that compostable plastic makes no contribution to humus. (For information about the effect of the corn boom on the environment, click here.)
Oxo - Biodegradable Plastic, the Second Generation of Biodegradable Plastic
The second generation plastic oxo - biodegradable plastic was very different than the the previous generation of biodegradable plastic called PLA, starch-based plastic, or 'spudware. Oxo-biodegradable plastic had many advantages over PLA-It was invulnerable to water, one might adjust it to the desired biodegradation rate, some products could contain recycled content, it could be recycled, it didn't diminish the grain supply, it was stronger, less expensive, and was made from an otherwise useless industrial byproduct, light naphtha. (Light naphtha is a highly volatile faction of crude oil that cannot be made into gasoline, diesel, fuel oil, or jet fuel.**)
This second-generation biodegradable plastic is little known in the US, but is is well established and widely used in Europe. Tesco and Carrefours, the largest grocery chains in the world, and in France, respectively, package their customers' groceries in oxo-biodegradable 't-shirt' bags. In fact, the largest bakers in Mexico and South Africa package bread in oxo - biodegradable bags, and oxo - biodegradable plastic is becoming common in India and China. The US is so far behind the curve on this, that it is a little embarrassing. (Update: Tesco has stopped using biodegradable plastic shopping bags, citing a study by DEFRA which reflected all of the issues I have cited.) Read the DEFRA report by clicking here.
Oxo - biodegradable plastic doesn't biodegrade when deeply buried in landfills*, because it requires an initial phase of degeneration which required certain environmental factors-oxygen and one of the following three circumstances-heat, UV light, or mechanical stress-and because the subsequent biodegredation part of the degredation only works in oxygenated environments. These circumstances don't exist when deeply buried in landfills, so oxo-biodegradable plastics don't have any benefit for products deeply buried in landfills. Oxo - biodegradable products may, however, offer a benefit if litter is the primary concern, as they degrade in the presence of UV light.
There is a potential problem with UV initiated degradation, however - if it becomes common and products made with oxo-biodegradable additives enter the recycling stream in large numbers, the resulting plastic could have a short lifespan if placed in sunlight. This would be a big problem for items made with recycled plastic such as plastic tarps.
The Third Generation of Biodegradable Conventional Plastics,
which are used in our products: Micro - biodegradable Plastic
There is now a third generation biodegradable plastic product which is the standard plastic we use daily, light naphtha based plastic, with a masterbatch additive (ENA or Earth Nurture Additive,) that will cause it to biodegrade without the need of heat, UV light, mechanical stress, or oxygen. This third-generation plastic is called micro - biodegradable plastic, and it biodegrades when placed into the ground due to the action of micro-organisms naturally occurring in soil.
We now have ENA 2.0 masterbatch additive formulas for biodegrading all common plastics - Polypropylene, Polyethylene, HDPE, LDPE, LLDPE, Polystyrene, Expanded Polystyrene, Nylon, and many others, including PLA. Products made with our ENA 2.0 additives are recyclable, invulnerable to water, don't diminish the grain supply, and are much less expensive than bioplastics. Products made with our additives also have the advantage of having the same shelf life as regular plastics, unlike PLA and oxo - biodegradable plastic, as it does not biodegrade until it is in the presence of soil micro-organisms.
Additionally, this new ENA micro - biodegradable plastic will definitely biodegrade when buried in the ground in either aerobic or anaerobic environments, that is, landfills and anaerobic digesters. If ENA-treated plastic is biodegraded in airless or very low oxygen environments, such as landfills or anaerobic digesters, it produces valuable methane gas. Over 60% of landfilled solid waste in the United States is disposed of in landfills that are tapped for methane, and the resulting methane, which is essentially the same as natural gas, can be used for many purposes. It is being piped into homes for cooking and heating, it is piped to factories for industrial production, it is used to run turbines to make electricity, and it is used to operate vehicles such as buses, taxis, and private automobiles. Few Americans know that millions of vehicles are being run on natural gas / methane. The latest in natural gas storage, adsorbed natural gas tanks, makes the use of methane in vehicles safe, inexpensive, and convenient.
WHY IS METHANE A DESIRABLE FUEL?
Some figures: It has been estimated, in 'Methane Generation in Landfills,' that landfills produce 75 billion cubic meters of methane a year. A cubic meter is about 35.3 cubic feet. A barrel of oil contains the same amount of energy as 5800 cubic feet of natural gas, so tapping the landfills of the world could replace almost one half of a billion barrels of oil a year at 2011 MSW volume levels. In the US, 60% of municipal solid waste is going to into landfills that are being tapped for methane.
Using Earth Nurture technology, in anaerobic digesters, 60% of the carbon in disposable plastic items that are thrown away every year could be converted to methane gas, replacing 60,000,000 metric tons of petroleum oil, (which equals about 420,000,000 barrels of oil) per year. The cost of 420,000,000 barrels of low-sulfur crude oil is about $45,000,000,000 USD, so we are talking about a serious amount of money. In addition to replacing sixty million metric tons of oil, burning methane releases 18 to 30% less CO2 per year (about 1.5 million tons,) than petroleum use releases, and it almost eliminates the nitrous oxide (a very potent greenhouse gas,) that petroleum use releases.
The discovery of the process of fracking oil shale to produce natural gas makes it inevitable that natural gas will become a much more common fuel in the future, which in turn means that our infrastructure for distributing gas will be become more developed. The much lower price of natural gas, relative to the cost of petroleum oil, means that we will use it in vehicles more and more. Since methane can be mixed with, or entirely replace natural gas, this means that our entire infrastructure for distributing and using natural gas / methane will become more and more widespread and developed. A further benefit of methane as a fuel, is that unlike other renewable fuel sources, methane can be readily stored, at little extra cost. This cannot be said of solar power, wind power, wave power, or tidal power. The invention of the adsorption tank (tanks with activated charcoal in them,) means that the last obstacle, the costs and risks of liquefaction or high compression of compressed natural gas / methane, has been overcome, because adsorption tanks store natural gas / methane at one 1/10 the pressure as highly compressed gas.
ENA-AD, ENA for Anaerobic Digesters
In addition to ENA's plastic masterbatch additive product, ENA technology can also be used in another application - as a direct additive to wet anaerobic digesters. Adding ENA-AD (ENA-Anaerobic Digester,) to an anaerobic digester makes anaerobic digesters able to biodegrade any hydrocarbon, no matter how recalcitrant to biodegradation it is considered to be. Adding conventional polymers to anaerobic digesters that are currently running only manure will improve methane production, because dairy cow manure is 1/2 lignocellulose, essentially the same substance as wood. Adding 1/3 conventional plastic to 2/3 manure mix results in the ideal 30 to 1 carbon to nitrogen ratio, and this is feasible if ENA-AD is added to the Anaerobic digester. ENA-AD can also be added to bioreactor landfills, which are landfills in which active steps to hasten biodegradation are taken, such as recirculating leachate, or pumping air into the landfill. See Wikipedia's entry about Bioreactor Landfills.
ENA-AD can also be used in treating many wastes, such as sewage sludge and refinery sludge.
Wood is normally considered recalcitrant to biodegradation in anaerobic digesters. When ENA-AD is added to anaerobic digesters, wood becomes a feedstock for methane generation. The US government calculates that 1/2 of the wood harvested to make products (ie., not counting firewood,) ends up as waste. Worldwide, that equals at least 850 milion tons. If the carbon (wood is 50% carbon) in that wood were turned into methane (at 60% conversion efficiency,) , that would be the energy equivalent to 761 million tons, or 1/2 of the world's gasoline production per year. (Methane, by weight, contains 1.5362 the amount of energy of gasoline.) That's more that 64 billion US dollars at commodity pricing. This would be a completely green technology - all of the carbon used would be carbon drawn from the atmosphere by plants, and so it would not contribute to global warming at all.
Biogas Production of ENA-Treated Sample in Anaerobic Test, 3mm Thick Sample
(200 x as thick as a standard grocery bag in the US)
Please e-mail Tim Dunn for any inquiries, including documentation of any claim made on this website. We have extensive documentation of third party testing of the biodegradability, acceptability for food contact, and environmental harmlessness of our products.
Earth Nurture does business in Europe as Earth Nurture Europe. To view our European website, click here.
PET, the clear plastic used in soda and water bottles, is being made partly out of materials of plant origin by the largest bottlers, and Nestle has decided that PLA (corn plastic, or polylactic acid,) is not practical for widespread packaging use. So, in response to the public demand for 'sustainability,' industry is starting to supply "conventional" plastics with at least partly plant-based materials.
The Brazilian Braskem corporation is building a production plant with an annual capacity of 200,000 tons for the production of bio-PE. The current production figures presently run to only 12 t per year in a pilot plant . The two companies Dow and Crystalsev have also announced that they will build a plant for the production of bio-PE with an annual production capacity of 350,000 tons. Source: http://www.bio-plastics.org/joomdocs/BioplasticsMarket.pdf [Bio-PE is made from plant sources, but it is not biodegradable, unless you add ENA to it.]
"We all have read about the recent announcements, by H.J. Heinz Co. to use Coca-Cola's TM 30% plant-based PET PlantBottle for packaging its ketchup, and then by PepsiCo TM announcing the existence of a 100% plant-based PET bottle in the laboratory and shortly thereafter Coca-Cola TM itself announcing the 100% PlantBottle for Dasani TM." [Like bio-PE, bio-PET is made from plant sources, but it is not biodegradable, unless you add ENA to it.]
A very large and highly technical study about the environmental benefits of conventional plastic garbage bags versus bioplastic garbage bags (PLA, aka corn-plastic,) bags has just been released. Conventional plastic was found to be more environmentally friendly in all categories, including non-renewable energy use, global warming impact, and pollution.
Bagasse (sugar cane) residue is a compostable product made out of an agricultural byproduct. So far, so good. Is it suitable for making plates, lunch trays, bowls, and other food service ware out of? This chef puts it to the test.
Is bottled water the pointless expense many 'Greens' say it is? No, chlorinated tap water causes cancer. Thousands of cases of cancer every year. Click here to read a definitive study.
**It is often implied, quite mistakenly, that a barrel of oil could easily be turned into whatever product is desired. Nothing could be further from the truth. A barrel of crude oil has many complex chemicals in it, of various different weights / densities. These various densities are suitable for producing only a limited number of items. 'Light' naphtha, the kind used to make plastics, is lighter than gasoline, and more dense than natural gas. It has very few uses besides making plastics. It is also used for making products in relatively limited demand, such as 'white gasoline' aka 'Coleman fuel,' lighter fluid, and solvent. Click here to see this illustrated.
***How 'sustainable' is corn? Every phase of cultivation: Planting, fertilization, weed killing, pest killing, harvesting, and transporting of harvested corn, uses diesel to run the machinery which does this work, and the fertilizer used in growing corn is also made out of petroleum. Furthermore, the process uses vast amounts of water, and pollutes the remaining ground water with pesticides and herbicides, rendering it toxic. Click here to read a Time Magazine article which expresses extreme skepticism about the greenness of biofuel.
How green are bioplastics compared to plastics made from petroleum products? Click here to see a recent study from the University of Pittsburgh
There are 280 million (American) tons of plastic (255 million metric tonnes) made every year. Worldwide production of PLA, or corn plastic, is about 500,000 tons, or about 2 tenths of one percent of the 'conventional' plastic made every year. It takes about 2.61 tonnes of corn to make one tonne of PLA, so it would take 665 million tonnes of grain to replace all of the conventional plastic with PLA. The UN says that well over a billion people are hungry right now, with a world grain production of 1.73 billion tonnes of grain. It would take 38% of the world's grain supply to make all of the world's plastic out of grain.
The thing to take away from all of this is that you can't just believe cliches or commercial claims about greenness. The gold rush to greenness has been noticed by giant commercial interests, and the public concern about our environment is being ruthlessly exploited by huge companies who have no real concern for the environment. To know what is best for the environment requires vigorous exploration of the fundamental facts, and some extensive math. There is no valid shortcut to knowing what is 'green,' but science.