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Bioplastics and Everything You Need to Know About Them

Bioplastic materials are made of polymer resins or thermoplasts. They are typically manufactured from petroleum, coal or natural resources. Depending on what they are made from, they are classified into 1. Bio-based plastics, 2. Biobased and biodegradable, compostable plastics and 3. biodegradable compostable plastics.

Are Bioplastics better than traditional plastics?

Bioplastics can be a great alternative to traditional plastics for the following reasons:

  1. Sustainable sources and reduced carbon footprint: Bioplastics are derived from renewable resources like corn, sugarcane, or starch, reducing dependence on fossil fuels and lowering greenhouse gas emissions during production.
  2. Biodegradability and compostability: Bioplastics can break down into natural substances or nutrient-rich humus under specific conditions, reducing plastic pollution and contributing to a circular economy. But do note that not all bioplastics are 100% biodegradable.
  3. Lower toxicity: Bioplastics generally contain fewer toxic additives and encourage research in sustainable materials, leading to the development of more eco-friendly alternatives.

Are bioplastics eco-friendly?

Bioplastics are frequently promoted as eco-friendly; however, they may consist of a blend of natural and chemical components. As a result, it’s essential to approach such labels with caution. A burn test can more accurately determine if the material is entirely natural. Mixed-material items pose difficulties during end-of-life processing, as separating the raw materials, which possess distinct physical and chemical properties, can be challenging.

Just like there are different grades of plastics, there are different grades of bioplastics and they can be either biodegradable or non-biodegradable.

Examples of common non-biodegradable bioplastics

  1. Bio-Polyethylene (Bio-PE)
    Also known as renewable polyethylene, it is produced from sugarcane or wheat grain Bio-PE is chemically identical to petroleum-based polyethylene. It is used in packaging, consumer goods, and automotive applications, but it does not biodegrade.
  2. Bio-Polyethylene Terephthalate (Bio-PET)
    Made from plant-based ethylene glycol combined with petroleum-derived terephthalic acid, bio-PET is commonly used in beverage bottles, food packaging, and textiles. Like petroleum-based PET, bio-PET is not biodegradable.
  3. Bio-based Polyamide (Bio-PA)
    Derived from renewable resources such as castor oil, bio-based polyamides have applications similar to petroleum-based polyamides. However, they do not biodegrade in the environment.

Examples of common biodegradable bioplastics

  1. Polylactic Acid (PLA):
    Derived from corn starch or sugarcane, PLA is biodegradable and compostable using industrial composting conditions. They are often used in packaging, disposable cutlery, food containers, and 3D printing.
  2. Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA):
    PHA is produced by microorganisms and is a family of biodegradable and biocompatible biopolymers with various applications such as agriculture films, packaging, and medical products like sutures and drug delivery systems.
  3. Thermoplastic Starch (TPS):
    Made from plant-based starch, TPS is biodegradable and often blended with other biopolymers to create materials with improved properties. Common applications include packaging, disposable tableware, and agricultural uses.
  4. Polybutylene Succinate (PBS):
    Derived from succinic acid and 1,4-butanediol, PBS is a biodegradable bioplastic used in compostable bags, disposable cutlery, and agricultural mulch films.
  5. Polycaprolactone (PCL):
    PCL is a biodegradable polyester with a low melting point, making it suitable for applications such as medical implants, drug delivery systems, and biodegradable sutures.
  6. Polyglycolic Acid (PGA):
    PGA is a biodegradable polyester used in medical applications, including sutures, tissue engineering, and drug delivery systems.

When buying bioplastics, look for labels or certifications indicating they are made from bioplastics. Some common labels on bioplastics include “compostable,” “biodegradable,” or “bio-based.” Some certifications like ASTM D6400 (compostable) or EN 13432 (European compostable standard) can also inform you about the type of bioplastic you’re buying.

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