What is Bio-based Plastic?
Bio-based Plastics are made from bio resources. This is different than the standard plastic which comes from fossil resources (the likes of Oil, Coal and Natural Gas). The term ‘biobased’ means that the material or product is (partly) derived from biomass (plants). Biomass used for bioplastics stems from e.g. corn, sugarcane, or cellulose.
So why do Biobased Plastics matter?
There are many reasons.
Essentially, bio-based resources are renewable resources. This means they can grow again and again. This is different to the standard polymers and materials that are created from fossil and our other depletable resources.
On the whole, the planet is running out of fossil fuels. While exact dates and timelines are hard to pinpoint (as new ones will inevitably be discovered as time goes on) but it is expected that it will be greatly depleted by 2060. As the petroleum-based supply narrows, the costs go up. So, in this sense, biobased plastics are better for the environment and are more sustainable in the long-term.
In addition, biobased products can also be healthier. Bioplastic is also less toxic and does not contain bisphenol A (BPA), a hormone disrupter that is often found in traditional plastics. Take Styrofoam (polystyrene foam) for example (which is not biobased). When used with food products and heated – it can release toxic chemicals into the food which negatively impacts your health. On top of that, when exposed to sunlight e.g. at a landfill – it creates harmful air pollutants.
A biobased alternative to Styrofoam would be polylactic acid (PLA) which can have the same functional benefits but it’s more eco-friendly and does not have BPA.
What is the difference between bio-based and biodegradable?
This is often confused and it’s totally different. Bio-based refers to the source of the material used to make the plastic. Whereas biodegradable only refers to the fact that the material will degrade at the end of life. From there, it turns back into carbon dioxide or biomass.
The reality is when it comes to plastics – not all biobased plastics are biodegradable – only some are both. Likewise, not all biodegradable plastics are biobased (or plant based) -some are in fact fossil based.
Plastics that fall into these categories are as follows:
Bio-based only: PET, PP, PE
Biodegradable only: PBAT, PCL
Final words on Bioplastics
It’s a massive area with many different nuances and meanings when it comes to the terminology. Bioplastics have tremendous potential when done in the right way. However it’s not just as simple as adding the bio prefix. It’s what we do with the product that counts.
But it is a great first step and manufacturers and suppliers who switch to bioplastics are taking a leading role in the awareness of this issue and in educating customers about the value of what they are doing.
There are various certifying bodies in Europe, the United States, and Asia that can verify the renewable content of a material or product based on the ASTM D6866 standard.
All I’m greenTM bio-based products can be submitted to such analysis. This is what our ORGANIC range of nook covering material is made from. Products under I’m green™ bio-based brand are produced from sugarcane and capture CO2 from the atmosphere, contributing to climate change mitigation.
The percentage of renewable content is validated using tests to date the product's carbon 14 isotope, which is the same process used to verify the age of fossils in archaeology.
The carbon in the resins is typically not more than a year old, whereas the carbon in conventional fossil plastics typically dates back roughly a hundred million years.