Climate Action & Environment · · 4 min read

What are Bioplastics?

Bioplastics are a type of plastic made from renewable biomass sources, such as corn starch, sugarcane, or vegetable oils, as opposed to fossil fuel-based feedstocks used in conventional plastics. According to the organization, European Bioplastics, these materials have the potential to reduce carbon


Bioplastics are a type of plastic made from renewable biomass sources, such as corn starch, sugarcane, or vegetable oils, as opposed to fossil fuel-based feedstocks used in conventional plastics.

According to the organization, European Bioplastics, these materials have the potential to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 30% to 70% compared to conventional plastics.

A recent study also uncovered, that the global bioplastics market is projected to reach $68.6 billion by 2024, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.2% from 2019 to 2024.

Types of Bioplastics

This material can be categorized into two main types: bio-based and biodegradable. While these terms may seem similar, they refer to distinct characteristics.

Let’s delve into the details of each type:

  1. Bio-based Bioplastics: Bio-based bioplastics are derived from renewable biomass sources, such as corn starch, sugarcane, cellulose, or vegetable oils.
    They are produced by converting the organic materials into monomers, which are then polymerized to form plastic-like materials.

    This type can be further classified into two subcategories:

    a. Biobased Non-Biodegradable Bioplastics: This type of bioplastic is made from renewable resources but does not naturally break down or decompose under normal environmental conditions.

    These materials offer the advantage of reduced carbon footprint and decreased reliance on fossil fuels, but they require appropriate waste management systems for proper disposal or recycling.

    Examples of biobased non-biodegradable bioplastics include bio-polyethylene (bio-PE) and bio-polyethylene terephthalate (bio-PET), which are commonly used in bottles, containers, and packaging.

    b. Biobased Biodegradable Bioplastics: Biobased biodegradable bioplastics are designed to break down naturally in specific environments, usually through the action of microorganisms such as bacteria or fungi.

    These materials contribute to a circular economy by enabling composting or controlled degradation processes.

    Examples include polylactic acid (PLA), which is derived from corn or sugarcane and finds applications in packaging, disposable cutlery, and textiles. Another example is polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), which are produced by bacterial fermentation and used in various sectors, including medical implants and agricultural films.
  2. Biodegradable Bioplastics: Biodegradable bioplastics refer specifically to the ability of a material to decompose naturally under specific conditions. These conditions typically involve exposure to moisture, heat, and microorganisms present in composting or anaerobic digestion facilities.

    It is important to note that not all bioplastics are inherently biodegradable, and biodegradability can vary depending on the specific formulation and environmental conditions. Biodegradable can include both bio-based and fossil fuel-based materials, and they offer a sustainable solution to reducing plastic waste.

Understanding the distinction between bio-based and biodegradable is crucial for making informed choices regarding their production, use, and end-of-life management.

Both types contribute to sustainability by reducing reliance on fossil fuels and offering alternatives to traditional plastics.

However, it is essential to consider the specific applications, disposal methods, and environmental impacts of each type to ensure the most suitable choice for a given scenario.

Manufacturing Processes

The production of this type of material involves several processes, including polymerization, compounding, and shaping. During polymerization, monomers from renewable resources are chemically bonded to form polymer chains.

Compounding involves blending the polymers with additives to enhance their performance and achieve desired properties.

Finally, the shaped bioplastic products are created through various methods such as extrusion, injection molding, or thermoforming.

Advantages of Bioplastics

What are Bioplastics?

Bioplastics offer numerous advantages over traditional plastics. Firstly, their renewable origin reduces dependence on fossil fuels, conserving valuable resources.

Secondly, they have a lower carbon footprint due to decreased greenhouse gas emissions during production. They can also mitigate plastic pollution by reducing waste generation.

In addition, they possess versatile properties that can be customized to suit specific applications, making them suitable for a wide range of industries.

Moreover, they can contribute to the development of a circular economy by enabling composting and recycling processes.

Lastly, as conscious consumerism and demand for sustainable products grow, bioplastics provide an eco-friendly option that aligns with changing preferences.

Limitations and Challenges

Despite their numerous benefits, there are challenges and limitations. One significant concern is the competition between bioplastics and food production. As some bioplastics rely on agricultural crops, questions arise regarding the potential impact on food security and land use.

Additionally, they require appropriate waste management systems to ensure effective composting and recycling, which are not yet universally available.

Furthermore, biodegradable bioplastics may not break down efficiently in traditional plastic waste management infrastructure, leading to improper disposal and environmental harm.

To address these limitations, continued research and development are necessary, focusing on alternative feedstocks and improving the end-of-life processes.

Applications and Success Stories

Bioplastics have made significant strides across diverse industries. In packaging, they offer sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics, reducing environmental impact.

They are also gaining traction in the automotive industry, where they are used in interior components, reducing weight and enhancing fuel efficiency.

The medical field utilizes these materials in various applications, including implants and drug delivery systems, owing to their biocompatibility.

They are also finding their way into agricultural applications such as mulching films, reducing plastic waste in farming practices.

Notably, companies like Coca-Cola and Danone have adopted bioplastics for their beverage bottles, showcasing their commitment to sustainability.

Bioplastics have emerged as a groundbreaking solution to address the environmental challenges posed by traditional plastics.

With their renewable origin, reduced carbon footprint, and potential for biodegradation, they offer a promising pathway towards a more sustainable future.

As consumer awareness and demand for eco-friendly alternatives increase, bioplastics are finding their way into various industries, from packaging to automotive and medical applications.

However, challenges such as waste management infrastructure and competition with food production must be addressed to maximize the benefits. Continued research, technological advancements, and collaboration between stakeholders are crucial to unlocking the full potential and paving the way for a plastic-free world.

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