Symphony Environmental’s one-stop solution for plastic pollution

Symphony Environmental has made plastics smarter and more sustainable by developing a technology called d2w to protect the environment, human health and safety by making plastic so that it will biodegrade if it gets into the open environment. The technology is sold to plastics manufacturers in the form of masterbatches in 100 countries around the world. Michael Laurier, group CEO, Symphony Environmental Technologies shares insights with Team WhatPackaging?

08 Nov 2023 | By Abhay Avadhani

Michael Laurier: The only problem with plastic is that it can lie or float around for many decades as litter which cannot realistically be collected, but the type of plastic marketed as “compostable”

Laurier believes that upgrading plastics is better than “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” by banning plastics.  He believes that plastic is very useful, especially to the poorest people, by protecting their food and water from contamination.  It is much better than paper, and has a much better Life-cycle Assessment than other packaging materials.

He says that the only problem with plastic is that it can lie or float around for many decades as litter which cannot realistically be collected, but the type of plastic marketed as “compostable” cannot help with this - because it is tested to biodegrade only in the special conditions found in an industrial composting facility. 

That is why Symphony has developed its d2w biodegradable technology which puts a special ingredient into the plastic at manufacture, to make it convert rapidly into biodegradable materials if it becomes litter. It is tested to ensure that it leaves no microplastics and no toxicity.    

Make the plastic thicker?

Many people think that if you make the packaging product thicker, the rag pickers and waste collection system will pick it up. “This could reduce the problem a little, but too much plastic will still escape into the open environment and won’t get collected.  That’s why it has to be biodegradable. Also, if you make the plastic thicker you are putting more plastic into the environment – not a good idea.”

Symphony’s d2w plastic

“This is just ordinary plastic with a special ingredient and can be made in existing factories at little or no extra cost. We are therefore aligned with India’s plastics industry, which employs thousands of people, and are helping them to deal with the complaint that their products are causing long-term pollution of the environment.” 

“No R&D is required, as this has already been done and proved, and the d2w plastic product will perform in exactly the same way as ordinary plastic during its service-life.  The only difference is that it will biodegrade if it becomes litter.  By adjusting the formulation of the masterbatch Symphony can make the service-life as long or as short as may be required.”

How fast does it biodegrade?

“Timescale depends on the formulation of the plastic and how much heat or sunlight it receives, but it will biodegrade very much more quickly than ordinary plastic in any location in the open environment - even in cool, dark conditions.  (Queen Mary University London has estimated 90 times quicker).  It could be made to biodegrade even more quickly, but there would be no point in that, as a plastic product must have a reasonable service-life. There is no need to fit in with the short 180 day timescales required by the industrial composters (who don’t want plastic anyway).  There is an important environmental benefit because d2w plastic biodegrades and is completely cleared out of the environment, significantly faster than ordinary plastic.”

What about recycling?

“d2w plastic can be recycled if collected, as it is 99.9% ordinary plastic, but the type of plastic marketed as compostable cannot, because it has a different composition and would contaminate the recycling feedstock.  If you can't collect the plastic for mechanical recycling, d2w plastic will be organically recycled back to nature by the bacteria and fungi, and its carbon will go back into the plants.” 

What about composting?

“D2w plastic is not designed for composting, because we don’t think there is a role for any type of plastic in the composting process, and the industrial composter doesn't want it. D2w technology is designed to prevent the accumulation of plastic litter if it gets into the open environment.

In December 2022 the UK Environment Minister was asked about “compostable” plastic and said “This does not contribute to a circular economy, as compostable plastic packaging is generally intended to be used only once” and “evidence suggests these materials are often stripped out at the start of the process and landfilled or incinerated” 
It is also worth noting that plastic should not be marketed as compostable.  This is because it does not convert into compost even in a composting facility – it converts into CO2 gas, as required by International Standards EN13432.”


Packaging material with d2w biodegradable additive is undergoing testing in accordance with the standards prescribed by IS 17899 T:2022

Is d2w useful for farmers?

“Yes. For many years farmers and growers have used plastic sheets to protect their crops and inhibit weeds. They have three alternatives:
1.    Ordinary plastic. After the harvest, many hectares of soiled plastic have to be hauled off the fields and disposed of. As they have been exposed to sunlight for many months they will probably have become brittle and unsuitable for recycling, and will scatter fragments in the wind while they are being removed. Even if they are still suitable, it is expensive to transport this material along country lanes in large vehicles, and to wash and reprocess this plastic, so it makes no sense in economic or environmental terms. It is not allowed to be burned, so the farmer has to bury it somewhere on the farm.

2.    Bio-based plastic.  This is much more expensive, and tears more easily, and cannot be recycled. It cannot be programmed to be serviceable for the length of time required by the farmer.

3.    Biodegradable plastic.  This is as strong as ordinary plastic and costs little or no more to produce. By adjusting the balance between actives and stabilisers in the masterbatch it can be programmed to be serviceable for the length of time required by the farmer.  After the harvest it will have become biodegradable and can be ploughed into the field, where it will be a source of carbon for next year’s plants. Symphony have done successful farm trials with mulch film made with their d2w masterbatch.”


What is the position in the EU?

“The EU has banned “oxo-degradable” plastic, mainly because it creates microplastics, but in 2017 the EU asked their own scientific experts, the European Chemicals Agency, to study the d2w type of plastic.  The Agency advised on 30th October 2018 that it was not convinced that microplastics were formed.    This is because when d2w plastic falls into fragments it is because the molecular weight has been reduced to the point that it ceases to be a plastic and becomes a biodegradable material.”

Scientific evidence

“The mechanism of abiotic peroxidation of hydrocarbons has been extensively studied over the past 50 years. In the 1970s Professor Scott and other polymer scientists had realised by then that polyethylene and polypropylene could cause an environmental problem if it escaped from the waste management processes and ended up in the open environment as litter.  

So, knowing that most of it would not be collected, they discovered that if they introduced into the normal polyethylene or polypropylene a tiny amount of a catalyst (which is usually a salt of manganese or iron) the plastic would not start to degrade while it is in storage and  would perform in exactly the same way as normal plastic whilst in use, but if it was discarded into the open environment it would rapidly become biodegradable, and be  consumed by bacteria in the same way as nature’s wastes.

D2w technology is therefore based on research going back as far as the 1970’s and Symphony has a comprehensive dossier of scientific evidence to prove degradability, biodegradability, and non-toxicity. The most recent research is a four-year study, known as the Oxomar project, sponsored by the French Government. The goal was to evaluate the biodegradation in marine waters.

In their conclusion the scientists reported that “We have obtained congruent results from our multidisciplinary approach that clearly shows that these plastics biodegrade in seawater and do so with a significantly higher efficiency than conventional plastics. The oxidation level obtained due to the d2w prodegradant catalyst was found to be of crucial importance in the degradation process.”

Symphony in India

“Symphony UK understands that India has its own special characteristics, and it has therefore established Indian operations with an Indian team who are suitably qualified and resourced to bring the technology to the plastics industry in India, and to assist them to use it.  The Indian company is called Symphony Environmental India Pvt ltd., and they have already created a network of Distributors throughout India.

Packaging material with d2w biodegradable additive is undergoing testing in accordance with the standards prescribed by IS 17899 T:2022. The same material has already been tested as per the existing global test standards and has been shown to be biodegradable and non-toxic. 

It is understandable that the Government would want to be sure that the manufacturers are using an approved product, and manufacturers therefore need to show that they have purchased the appropriate amount of Masterbatch for the quantity of product they have produced.  There is also a hand-held device available for rapid detection, which the authorities can use to determine whether the product contains the certified masterbatch or not.”

Latest Poll

The packaging industry is confused by recycling and sustainability rules in India. What is the biggest challenge?

Results

The packaging industry is confused by recycling and sustainability rules in India. What is the biggest challenge?

Shortcomings in EPR policy

 

21.05%

Inadequate infrastructure

 

10.53%

Shortage of recycling firms

 

21.05%

Lack of consumer awareness

 

47.37%

Total Votes : 19

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