What are "Bioplastics"?

Plastics from renewable resources are often referred to as bioplastics or biopolymers. "Bioplastics" is not a precisely defined term. This term is usually used to describe various materials, that consist at least partially of bio-based (renewable) feedstock and/or are biodegradable.

Three basic polymer groups exist:

  • biodegradable fossil-based polymers
  • biodegradable (predominantly) bio-based biopolymers
  • non-biodegradable bio-based biopolymers

"Bioplastics" are bio-based or biodegradable, or both. In the project BIO-PLASTICS EUROPE we are looking only on those biopolymers, that are bio-based and biodegradable.

Bio-based: The term ‘bio-based’ means, that a material or product is (partly) derived from biomass. Biomass is organic material of biological origin (excluding material embedded in geological formations and/or fossilized). Biomass could be plants, trees, algae, marine organisms, micro-organisms, animals, etc.. Bio-based can also mean that the feedstock derives from any form of organic waste.

Biodegradable: Materials are biodegradable, if they could be converted into natural substances such as water, carbon dioxid and compost by different naturally occurring organisms. In most cases microbiological biodegradation is the most important process. Biodegradation is strongly dependent on the conditions for the microorganisms in water and soil. The biodegradation is furthermore dependent on the presence or absence of oxygen. The property of biodegradation does not depend on the resource basis of a material but is rather linked to its chemical structure.

‘Bio-based’ does not equal ‘biodegradable’

Applications of Bio-based Plastics

  • Packaging
  • Food Services
  • Agriculture and horticulture
  • Consumer goods and household appliance
  • Consumer electronics
  • Automotive

Pros and Cons of Bio-based Plastics

Pros

  • Flexible, moisture proof, thin and light weight
  • Bio-based plastics made from renewable resources can lead to sustainability
  • Combustable bio-based plastics would bio-degrade naturally
  • Relative reduction in carbon foot print
  • Generates fewer green house gases and are toxin free leading to eco-safety
  • Requires less energy for production than conventional plastics
  • Prevents consumption of crude oil

Cons

  • Bio-based plastic material may contaminate the recycling process if it is not separated from conventional plastics
  • Reduces agricultural resources
  • Requires specific treatment for composting
  • Lack of legislation
  • Costlier than regular plastics

Clearly, the application of bio-based plastics is a complex issue, as current plastics value chains are not well equipped to handle them. Additionally, there is a need to study effects on eco-systems and design materials that are compatible with the needs of the market. Bioplastics Europe aims to provide an answer to these questions.

More about the project