Novamont’s Mater-Bi bioplastic confirmed as fully marine biodegradable

Italian compostable bioplastics manufacturer Novamont has revealed that its Mater-Bi bioplastic has been found to be fully marine biodegradable within four to 12 months.

At a press conference in Rome yesterday (2 July), the Italian company stated that tests carried out by its own laboratories, the HYDRA Institute for Marine Science in Germany and the University of Siena showed that Mater-Bi biodegradable fruit and vegetable bags biodegraded fully in the marine environment. The company has said this can act as a ‘mitigation factor’ if bags were to end up in the ocean.

The studies on the Mater-Bi bags were divided into three sections: HYDRA, represented by Christian Lott, assessed the disintegration of the bags in the marine environment; the University of Siena, represented by Silvia Casini, studied the release of toxic elements into marine sediments as a result of biodegradation – known as ecotoxicology; and Novamont’s own laboratories established the intrinsic marine biodegradability of the bags.

These studies showed that samples of Mater-Bi bioplastics exposed to marine microorganisms demonstrated the same levels of biodegradation as cellulose and paper, with the speed of biodegradation increasing as the size of the bioplastic pieces decreased. This means that small particles of plastic, known as microplastics, created by the biodegradation of Mater-Bi are not persistent in the environment and fully biodegrade after 20-30 days.

Meanwhile, HYDRA’s tests showed that Mater-Bi fruit and vegetable bags completely biodegraded over a period of time from four to 12 months – control samples of polyethylene (PE) bags were found to remain intact over the same time period. The rate of biodegradation was dependent on the type of sediment found on the seabed and its chemical and biophysical properties.

The ecotoxicity tests – looking at the potential for toxins to affect ecosystems – carried out by the University of Siena found that samples of marine sediment injected with Mater-Bi did not transfer or generate toxic substances that were harmful to three model species of organisms:  unicellular algae, sea urchins and sea bass.

Samples tested after six and twelve months at various stages of biodegradation confirmed that exposure to the Mater-Bi injected sediments did not cause alterations in the growth of the unicellular algae, no embryotoxicity in sea urchins and no oxidative stress in the sea bass.

All analyses were supported by the Open-Bio research consortium, an EU-funded research project that investigates how bio-based products can be brought to market through standardisation established by a series of universally-recognised tests, which supported the development and standardisation of the testing methods used – Mater-Bi’s biodegradability was analysed using the new standardised biodegradation test UNI EN ISO 19679: 2018 (Plastics - Determination of aerobic biodegradation of non-floating plastic materials in a seawater/sediment interface – Method by analysis of evolved carbon dioxide).

Mitigating ecological risk

Despite the evidence of Mater-Bi’s biodegradability in the marine environment presented at the press conference, the company was keen to stress that this is not an excuse for the improper disposal of the company’s bio-plastics used in products such as plastic bags. All Mater-Bi products must be collected separately with organic waste and must be composted in industrial composting facilities.

Speaking at the press conference, Novamont’s Chief Executive Catia Bastioli said: “The intrinsic biodegradability of Mater-Bi products is a factor that can mitigate ecological risk. Our approach seeks to prevent the pollution of waterways and the marine environment, 80 per cent of which is caused by inadequate management of waste on land.

“This, however, must not become a commercial message. All products must be collected and recycled, including biodegradable products made from Mater-Bi, which must be recovered sent for composting together with organic waste. Nothing must be discarded irresponsibly whether on the ground or in the sea.”

Novamont has recently stepped up its production capacity by revamping its Mater-Bi production plant in Patrica, south of Rome, with production capacity for Mater-Bi and Origo-Bi biopolyesters increasing from 120,000 to 150,000 tonnes per year. Total investment in the facility is set to rise to €100 million (£88.5 million) over the next three years.

Novamont also launched a new range of biodegradable materials called Celus-Bi, designed to replace microbeads in leave-on and rinse-off cosmetic products, which Novamont states biodegrade ’rapidly and totally’ within ‘just a few days’.

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