BASICS ABOUT BIOPLASTICS
Bio is not the same as bio.
In order to understand the basics of bioplastics, you need to keep one principle in mind: There are different types of ‘bio’.
The big difference between conventional plastics and bioplastics is that bioplastics are bio-based, biodegradable or both. It means the term “bioplastic” includes an entire array of materials with a huge range of different properties.
So, first of all – what is the difference between bio-based and biodegradable?
Bio-based plastics are manufactured from biomass / organic material derived from agriculture or forestry – for example wood, sugar cane, sugar beet, oil plants, maize and increasingly also from by-products which will be more emergent in the future.
Biodegradable plastics break down subject to a chemical process. Its level of biodegradability is determined by the molecular structure of the material. Naturally occurring microorganisms convert the material into natural substances such as water, nitrogen and compost. This process can be accelerated, depending on the prevailing local conditions, such as humidity, temperature and pressure.
Materials, which are 100% bio-based, are not forced to be biodegradable – likewise, fossil materials (made from finite resources) can on the other hand be biodegradable. The chart below will help you understand the different possibilities for a plastic to be bio-based, biodegradable or both.
Furthermore, the decision on whether a product made from plastic needs to be bio-based only or bio-based and biodegradable at the same time, is to be defined by the intended application of the individual product.
Up to now, manufacturing of all conventional (bad) plastics has been based on a finite fossil resource: crude oil. We all are aware that oil resources are limited and its extraction is becoming dearer, as available sites are more remote and complex to access. Additionally, oil-based plastics contain toxic components, which can have negative impact to the environment and your personal health.
In order to strive for a more sustainable and healthier plastic industry, it is vital to make the right choice with alternative base materials for future products. It would not make any sense to use another finite resource, nor resources that serve us as food. We have to replace the current plastic manufacturing with infinite and renewable resources.
It is important for plastic manufacturing to take place on the basis of a sustainable value-added chain, so that future generations can also benefit from the advantages of polymer materials. In order to achieve this, we have to use redundant materials that would normally go to waste, such as one of our base materials lignin. Furthermore, we have to make use of plants that can grow within one year and can be used both for material production and the subsequent generation of biomass.
The demand for biological materials is increasing continually, specifically for bioplastics, as they have decisive advantages in comparison to conventional plastics:
- The reduction of the CO2 footprint, lowering greenhouse emissions
- The preservation and successive replacement of fossil resources
- Non-toxic materials for daily use and consumption that do not impact the environment and your health as a human being