Dr Ross Headifen and John Mancarella, Partners at Fieldtech Solutions & Biogone, have pioneered the use of biodegradable plastics across numerous industries – including supply chain, warehousing, and logistics. They share their journey towards sustainability in plastics.
Two entrepreneurs, Dr Ross Headifen and John Mancarella, say their Australian-born business, Biogone, is leading the world in making every-day single-use plastic recyclable. “Once the plastic can no longer be recycled, it can be disposed to landfill where it will biodegrade approximately 90-plus per cent faster than conventional plastics,” Ross says.
In 2008, Ross sold his company that supplied – among other products – single-use plastic equipment for groundwater sampling and monitoring. Ross says that while groundwater contamination was being cleaned up, it came at the cost of making piles of plastic that would still be around in 300-500 years. “This drove me to search for more responsible ways to make this equipment, and find a better solution for plastic waste,” he says.
Following the sale, Ross and his wife spent two years volunteering in Tanzania putting water wells in rural villages. “While there, we noticed a large amount of plastic bags and bottles with no infrastructure to manage the plastic pollution,” he says.
After returning home, Ross helped foster one of the biggest community litter collection volunteer groups in Melbourne – called BeachPatrol – to remove plastic litter from beaches.
“I spent the next two years researching and reading up on plastic and relevant scientific literature,” he says. “I studied many technologies, including oxo-degradable solutions and compostable plastics made from plants – but they had limitations, both in terms of processing requirements and sustainability considerations, which left me unsatisfied.”
LANDFILL BIODEGRADABLE PLASTIC
Still engaged in his research in 2010, Ross says he came across a small footnote in the literature that mentioned a US technology able to produce plastic that would biodegrade in landfills.
“I was intrigued and went down the rabbit hole to find out more about the company,” he says. “I discovered they were using a special inert organic additive which was added to the raw plastic mix. The additive was a food source for naturally occurring microbes in a landfill.”
The reason plastic cannot normally biodegrade, Ross says, is due to the molecular bonds in the polymer chain being too strong and stable. Because of this, microbes cannot normally get access to the atoms and their energy.
“But when this food additive is added to plastic, the microbes seek out the food and start to digest it,” he says. “The enzymes they secrete in that process break down the surface of the plastic, allowing microbes to access the top atoms and their energy for food. This process continues until the plastic has biodegraded all the way through. While it’s not as fast a biodegradation process as with paper or cardboard, it does offer other benefits.”
A key benefit, Ross says, is that this biodegradation process can occur in landfills and does not require composting conditions. “Currently, in Australia, approximately 84 per cent of plastic is disposed to landfill, so being able to provide a solution catering to where most plastic is disposed is a large advantage,” he says. “It means consumers can continue to dispose of their plastic waste – requiring very little behaviour change nor huge investment from the government.”
The additive used, Ross says, does not change the properties of the plastic for any product design considerations – meaning the plastic is fully mainstream recyclable; it has the same recyclable properties as conventional plastics.
“And because only a small amount of the additive is required, it can be mixed in with conventional raw plastic pellets just as a colourant would be added in,” he says. “This means the product manufacturers can use the additive to make biodegradable versions of their products without having to change any of their machinery.”
With this in mind, Ross says that he had landed on the best solution available for designing bespoke products and tackling head-on the issue of single-use plastics.
FIELDTECH SOLUTIONS & BIOGONE
After three years of testing, sampling, and developing prototypes, Ross teamed up with John Mancarella to start a new company, FieldTech Solutions, in 2012. Initially, they focused on supplying landfill-biodegradable plastic equipment to the contaminated land industry – but it wasn’t long before they expanded their range.
“Many of our products were world firsts,” says John. “It caused considerable discussion within the industry, with many asking why this hadn’t been done before.
“As the company grew, we realized that to be fully responsible we had to consider the packing materials we were using to ship our own products, which meant developing landfill-biodegradable packaging and shipping materials,” he says.
The idea kept snowballing and the pair continued to expand their product range. “Soon after, we established ‘Biogone’ as our new trading name – targeting our company to provide the logical solution to everyday plastics,” John says.
A BOON FOR SUSTAINABLE WAREHOUSING
Although their plastics have innumerable applications, Ross says that Biogone does cater specifically for logistics, warehousing, and 3PL companies. “We do stretch wrap, packing tape, pallet caps, plastic trappings, stick-on envelopes for enclosed documents and invoices, and so forth,” he says. “All of these products are planned for biodegradability and to be recyclable.”
John says that Biogone’s plastics are uniquely appealing in the context of sustainable supply chains and warehousing – both because of their marketing value, and because they help companies stay ahead of the curve in terms of corporate best practice and environmental regulatory compliance.
“I think the main benefit for business is it’s marketable,” John says. “You can tell your customers: ‘This is what we’re doing, and how we are being conscious of the environmental impacts that disposable plastics have on the world.’ It lets your customers know that you are reducing your environmental footprint, and I think that’s a really strong marketing angle to push. Because many big businesses have sustainability as part of their core values, and this helps them actually achieve their objectives, rather than just talking about achieving them.”
With Australia’s 2025 National Packaging Targets fast approaching, which – among other things – stipulate a requirement that 100 per cent of packaging be reusable, recyclable, or compostable, John says companies can meet those requirements now by switching to Biogone products.
The Targets do not require the use of biodegradable plastics, but as environmental concerns grow, standards mandating their use – whether locally or internationally – may well be around the corner. With ever closer scrutiny on plastics sustainability, Biogone presents the industry with an obvious question: Why not act now?
For more information on Biogone, click here.