Bio-based plastics have the same properties as conventional plastics but also feature the unique advantage to reduce the dependency on limited fossil resources and to potentially reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Marine litter is one of the main threats to the environment.
The largest share of marine litter consists from shipping activities, ineffectively managed landfills, and public littering.
The UNEP report on ‘bioplastics and marine litter’ (2015) recognises that polymers, which biodegrade on land under favourable conditions, also biodegrade in the marine environment.
The cost of research and development still makes up for a share of investment in bioplastics and has an impact on material and product prices. However, continuous research and innovation has made bioplastics cost competitive.
Today, there is a bioplastic alternative for almost every conventional plastic material and corresponding application. Bioplastics – plastics that are biobased, biodegradable, or both – can have the same properties as conventional plastics and offer additional advantages, such as a reduced carbon footprint or additional waste management options such as industrial composting.
Some bioplastics offer additional functionalities, such as biodegradability or compostability, and improved properties, such as increased heat resistance, enhanced moisture or gas barriers, greater stiffness and flexibility or improved durability.
Bioplastics are available in a wide variety of types and compounds that can mostly be converted on the standard equipment generally used for processing conventional plastics.
Compostable plastics that are tested and certified according to the European standard for industrial composting EN 13432 are required to disintegrate after 12 weeks and completely biodegrade after six months.
So almost 90 percent or more of the plastic material will have been converted to CO2. The remaining share is converted into water and biomass, which no longer contains any plastic. EN 13432 also includes test on ecotoxicity and heavy metal contents to ensure that no harmful substances are left behind.
Bio-based plastics have the unique advantage over conventional plastics to reduce the dependency on limited fossil resources and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Substituting the annual global demand for fossil-based polyethylene (PE) with bio-based PE would safe more than 42 million tonnes of CO2. This equals the CO2 emissions of 10 million flights aground the world per year.
Bio-based plastics have the unique advantage to reduce the dependency on fossil resources, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and increase resource efficiency.
Although, compared to conventional plastics, the production of bioplastics is still small (about 1-2 percent of the entire global plastics production), the potentials for growth and further innovation and development are enormous.
These yet untapped potentials of the bioplastics industry and the positive environmental, and socio-economic effects need to be considered when assessing the environmental impact of bioplastics
Studies have shown that there is little risk posed by biodegradation of biodegradable plastics in landfills. Forty-two percent of all post consumer plastics waste in Europe is still buried in landfills, which means that the material value or the energy value of the waste remain unused.
How large is the bioplastics market – currently and in future?
Currently, bioplastics represent about one per cent of the about 320 million tonnes (Source: Plastics Europe) of plastic produced annually.
Demand is rising and with more sophisticated materials, applications, and products emerging, the market is already growing by about 20 to 100 per cent per year.
According to the latest market data compiled by European Bioplastics, global production capacity of bioplastics is predicted to grow by 50 percent in the medium term, from around 4.2 million tonnes in 2016 to approximately 6.1 million tonnes in 2021.
According to the FAO, about one third of the global food production is either wasted or lost every year. European Bioplastics acknowledges that this is a serious problem and strongly supports efforts to reduce food waste.
Other deficiencies that need to be addressed are:
• logistical aspects such as poor distribution/storage of food/feed,
• political instability, and
• lack of financial resources.
When it comes to using biomass, there is no competition between food or feed and bioplastics. The land currently needed to grow the feedstock for the production of bioplastics amounts to only about 0.01 percent of the global agricultural area – compared to 96 percent of the area that is used for the production of food and feed.
Today, bioplastics are mostly made of carbohydrate-rich plants such as corn, sugar cane or sugar beet – so-called food crops or first generation feedstock. First generation feedstock is currently the most efficient for the production of bioplastics, as it requires the least amount of land to grow and produces the highest yields.
The bioplastics industry is also researching the use of non-food crops (second and third generation feedstock), such as cellulose, with a view to its further use for the production of bioplastics materials. Innovative technologies are focussing on non-edible by-products of the production of food crops, which generates large amounts of cellulosic by-products such as straw, corn stover or bagasse that can be used to produce biopolymers.
Compostability is a clear benefit when plastic items are mixed with biowaste. The use of compostable plastics makes the mixed waste suitable for organic recycling (industrial composting and anaerobic digestion), enabling the shift from recovery to recycling.
Bio-based plastics can help to reduce the dependency on limited fossil resources, which are expected to become significantly more expensive in the coming decades.
Bio-based plastics are made from renewable sources instead of oil and that way gradually substitute fossil resources used to produce plastics with renewable resources (currently predominantly annual crops, such as corn and sugar beet, or perennial cultures, such as cassava and sugar cane).
Bio-based plastics also have the unique potential to reduce GHG emissions or even be carbon neutral. Plants absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide as they grow. Using plants (i.e. biomass) to produce bio-based plastics constitutes a temporary removal of greenhouse gases (CO2) from the atmosphere. This carbon fixation can be extended for a period of time by establishing ‘use cascades’, that means if the material is being reused or recycled as often as possible before being used for energy recovery. In energy recovery, the previously sequestered CO2 is released and renewable energy is being produced.
Another major benefit of bio-based plastics is their potential to ‘close the cycle’ and increase resource efficiency. Depending on the end-of-life option, this can mean:
• Renewable resources are used to produce bio-based, durable products that can be reused, mechanically recycled and eventually incinerated whereby renewable energy is being produced.
• Renewable resources are used to produce bio-based, biodegradable and compostable products that can be organically recycled (industrial composting and anaerobic digestion) at the end of a product’s life cycle (if certified accordingly) and create valuable biomass (humus) during the process. The humus can be used to grow new plants, thus closing the cycle.
Furthermore, plastics that are bio-based and compostable can help to divert biowaste from landfill and increase waste management efficiency.
Biodegradation is a chemical process in which materials are metabolised to CO2, water, and biomass with the help of microorganisms. The process of biodegradation depends on the conditions (e.g. location, temperature, humidity, presence of microorganisms, etc.) of the specific environment (industrial composting plant, garden compost, soil, water, etc.) and on the material or application itself.
So-called ‘oxo-biodegradable’ products are made from conventional plastics and supplemented with specific additives in order to mimic biodegradation. In truth, however, these additives only facilitate a fragmentation of the materials, which do not fully degrade but break down into very small fragments that remain in the environment.
Biodegradability is an inherent characteristic of a material or polymer. In contrast to oxo-fragmentation, bioplastics degrade to produces water, carbon dioxide, and biomass as end products.
Oxo-biodegradable materials do not biodegrade under industrial composting conditions as defined in accepted standard specifications such as EN 13432, ISO 18606, or ASTM D6400.
Bioplastics are a large family of different materials with widely varying properties.
Bio-based PE or bio-based PET can be mechanically recycled in established recycling streams.
Biodegradable and compostable plastics can be organically recycled (industrial composting and anaerobic digestion).
All bioplastics can also be treated in recovery streams (incineration and the production of renewable energy due to the bio-based origin).
Bioplastics are a diverse family of materials with differing properties. There are three main groups:
• Bio-based (or partially bio-based), durable plastics such as bio-based polyethylene (PE), polyethylene terephthalate (PET) (so-called drop-in solutions), bio-based technical performance polymers, such as numerous polyamides (PA), or (partly) bio-based polyurethanes (PUR);
• Bio-based and biodegradable, compostable plastics, such as polylactic acid (PLA), polyhydroxyalkanaoates (PHA), polybutylene succinate (PBS), and starch blends;
Bio-based, durable plastics, such as bio-based PE or bio-based PET, possess properties that are identical to their conventional versions. These bioplastics are technically equivalent to their fossil counterparts; yet, they can help to reduce a product’s carbon footprint. Moreover, they can be mechanically recycled in the according existing recycling streams.
Innovative materials such as PLA, PHA, or starch-based materials offer solutions with completely new functionalities such as biodegradability and compostability and in some cases optimised barrier properties.
Along with the growth in variety of bioplastic materials, properties such as flexibility, durability, printability, transparency, barrier, heat resistance, gloss and many more have been significantly enhanced.
Today, there is pretty much nothing that bioplastics can’t do. For almost every conventional plastic material and application, there is a bioplastic alternative available that offers the same or in some cases even better properties and functionalities. Today, bioplastics are mainly being used in the following market segments:
• Packaging (including flexible and rigid packaging)
• Consumer goods & household applicances
• Automotive & transport
• Building & construction
• Agriculture & horticulture
• Electronics & electrics
The latest market data analysis by European Bioplastics shows that packaging remains the largest fields of application for bioplastics with almost 40 percent of the total bioplastics market in 2016. The data also confirms a decisive increase in the uptake of bioplastics materials in many other sectors, including consumer goods (22 percent) and applications in the automotive and transport sector (14 percent) and the construction and building sector (13 percent), where technical performance polymers are being used.
Industrial compostable plastic packaging (based on EN 13432) can be acquired from Vinçotte or DIN CERTCO following successful certification.
Certification for bio-based products based on EN 16640 is available from DIN CERTCO (Germany) and Vinçotte (Belgium).
The number of brand owners that apply bioplastics in their solutions is growing steadily.
Prominent examples of big brands that have introduced bioplastic packaging are Danone, Coca-Cola (PlantBottle), and Ecover (cleaning products). The supermarket chains Carrefour, Sainsbury, Billa, Spar and Hofer offer different packaging products and/or shopping bags made of bioplastics. In the leisure/sport sector PUMA, for example, uses bioplastics, and in the automotive market, Ford, Toyota and Mercedes have introduced various bioplastic components in several car models. In the consumer electronics market, Fujitsu is a well known brand that uses bioplastics in some of its products.
In line with the vision of UAE to become the hub of innovation and sustainability, Wanizha Trading is the first of its kind manufacturing company based out of UAE to produce organic replacement to plastic products. Established in the year 2017 in UAE, Wanizha Trading been actively promoting the message of sustainable living through reduced plastic usage, increased recycling and adoption of alternatives to single use plastics.
A world where human ecological footprint is in balance with the nature and thus the ecosystem is sustainable in the long run.
To spread awareness and facilitate adoption of environment friendly products and practices to lower our ecological footprint and in overall act responsibly towards improving the sustainability of our ecosystem.