Concrete Products

APR 2018

Concrete Products covers the issues that attract producers of ready mixed and manufactured concrete focusing on equipment and material technology, market development and management topics.

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50 • April 2018 INNOVATIONS REPORT BY PATRICK LINN Understanding biodegradable form release agents As consumers become more eco-conscious and more informed about how the materials they buy affect the environment, the desire for environmentally friendly products is on the rise. This holds for con- crete producers and contractors as well. Whether it's to meet specific federal and state requirements on biodegradability, volatile organic compound (VOC) exposure limits, or because customers are requesting "green" materials, owners, contractors and architects want products on their job sites that are less harmful to the environment. There are multiple ways to measure a product's environmental impact. These include carbon offsets, whether or not the ingredients are compostable, non-toxic, ozone-safe, recyclable, refillable, and the percentage of recycled content in the product. When it comes to chemicals used in concrete production and construction, biodegrad- ability is a primary measurement of eco-friendliness. WHAT QUALIFIES AS BIODEGRADABLE? A product is classified as biodegradable when it is capable of returning to its natural, raw material state quickly through biological means. A truly biodegradable material will break down into carbon dioxide, water, biomass and other natural minerals that don't adversely affect the ecosystem. The Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Green Guides, last updated in 2012, states that for marketers to make an unqualified claim on degradability, they must prove that the "entire product or package will completely break down and return to nature within one year after customary disposal." This issue of "customary disposal" is key because the characteristics of the environment in which the material is disposed can greatly affect its ability to break down. Exposure to air, water and sunlight would promote, say, an orange peel's ability to biodegrade, but bury that orange peel in a landfill and the rate at which it will biodegrade is very different. For this reason, the Cali- fornia Advertising Statute, amended in 1991, defined biodegradable materials as those that have "the proven capability to decompose in the most common environment where the material is disposed of within three years through natural biological processes into nontoxic carbonaceous soil, water, carbon dioxide or methane." READILY VS. INHERENTLY VS. ULTIMATELY BIODEGRADABLE The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the FTC recognize biodegradability by two classes, readily and inherently. (A third class, ultimately biodegradable, covers both readily and inherently biode- gradable and more.) Readily and Inherently biodegradable products have the natural ability to biodegrade to their natural state when subjected to sunlight, water and microbial activity. The difference lies in how quickly they achieve complete biodegradation. To measure the speed of biodegradability, EPA recognizes a 28-day half-life. Half- life is the time required for one-half of a given component to decay. Readily biodegradable: Product is capable of biodegrading from 60-100 percent in 28 days or less. In other words, these materials achieve complete biodegradation at a quick rate.

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