BIOPLASTICS: An Overview

Emamou Team

In this article, Emamou aims to provide a clear information about bioplastics, its types and applications.

GROUPS

Bioplastics include bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics. Bio-based means that the polymer is either entirely or partially obtained from biomass. Biodegradable means that the material can break down into natural substances such as CO2, water and biomass thanks to active microorganisms in the surrounding environment. Compostable plastics undergo biodegradation in home or industrial composting facilities where temperature (principally above 60oC) and surrounding conditions are structurally set.

Bioplastics therefore form three broad groups of polymers: 1) both bio-based and biodegradable, 2) only bio-based and 3) only biodegradable. Some main examples of bioplastics that are both bio-based and biodegradable are polylactic acid (PLA), polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) and bio-based polybutylene succinate (bio-PBS).

 

 

Polymer

Biobased

Biodegradable

Polymerization

PBAT

No

Yes

Polycondensation reaction

PBS

Yes

Yes

Melt polycondensation and chain extension

PLA

Yes

Yes

Polycondensation or Ring-opening polymerisation

PHA

Yes

Yes

Using microbes

PET

No

No

Esterification and transesterification

Bio-PET

Yes

No

Aqueous phase reforming and transesterification

PCL

No

Yes

Ring opening polymerization

PVA

No

Yes

Free radical vinyl polymerization

Cellulose acetate

Yes

Yes

Cellulose with acetic acid

Casein plastics

Yes

Yes

Precipitation using heat or acid

APPLICATIONS

 

PROS: how to use bioplastics?

Recent years, bioplastics appear more and more on the consumer and industrial markets. You can find a variety of bioplastic products  on online shops or in close-by supermarkets. Thanks to its bio-based resources, GHG emissions and environmental impacts of producing bioplastics are minor compared to the production of conventional plastics. Bioplastics do not have toxic chemicals, therefore they are good choices for food-related products such as vegetable bags, food containers, or food-contact gloves. They are also good options as trash bags collecting organic waste for municipal or industrial waste treatment and composting; or mulching films used in agriculture and horticulture to assure no contamination to the outside environment. 

CONS: what aspects do we need to pay attention?

Bioplastics cause pollution concerns if they are not collected and treated properly. Bioplastic waste needs to be processed in an industrial composting facilities to be able to decompose completely and cause no harmful impacts. If it is leaked into the soil or waterway, it also takes years to decompose and the negative effects can override its advantages. 

Labelling bioplastics also needs particular attention. There are still producers care for their profits more than for public health and the environment. They label their “fake” bioplastics (of low bio-based percentage and mixture with conventional plastics) and sell those products on the markets. They can also print a bioplastic name on the package without a proof of sustainability compliance. The consumers pay a higher costs and still our environment suffers further. Therefore, in the absence of a clear labelling or recognised certificate, consumers should avoid buying those products.

TIPs: for genuine bioplastics
1. Labelling: Real bioplastics should be labelled to assure a compliance with the EU 13432 for compostability. If you see a certificate issued by TUV Austria (OK compost INDUSTRIAL/ OK compost HOME/ OK Biobased) or DIN CERTCO (Industrial or Home Compostable), these products are authentic bioplastics.
2. Costs: There are no cheap bioplastics. If you see a pack of vegetable bags named “compostable bag” with a low price for conventional plastic bags, do not take them. They are likely “fake” bioplastics as explained above.


After reading this article, Emamou hopes that you are or keep remaining a responsible consumer, caring for your health and our planet!

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