The problem with petroleum plastic is it doesn't degrade and go away. This means that plastic that our grandparents (or great-grandparents) threw away is still in a landfill or has washed away into our oceans. This article discusses the quiet revolution with companies developing new and innovative eco-plastics. But which is better? Biodegradable Plastics versus Bioplastics delves into a truly creative and inspiring area. Is this the answer to our plastics problem? To find out, read on!
What are biodegradable plastics?
Designers create Biodegradable plastic to break down, decompose and return to the environment as organic matter. It is usually made from natural materials such as corn starch, sugar cane, or potato starch instead of petroleum. The production process involves breaking down raw materials into simple sugars and fermenting them to produce biodegradable plastic.
What are the positives of using biodegradable plastics?
They are strong enough to replace nearly every type of standard petroleum-based plastic on the market today. Biodegradable plastics' main advantage over traditional plastic is that it is more environmentally friendly as they can be broken down and decomposed by microorganisms over time. There are companies all over Europe making biodegradable plastics, and the applications are enormous.
For example, in Agriculture with Ground Covering, Food Packaging, Carrier Bags, Waste Collection, Tableware and other less obvious applications such as biofilters for the automotive sector, products for the hygiene and personal care sector, and chewing products for pets… When I look around, I see computer parts, pens, folders, bottles, lids, and sticky tape.
Look around yourself right now, wherever you are. You will probably see plastic unless you are naked and in the wilderness… but then where do you put your phone? How do you have reception? How many bars do you have? Ha! I digress…
What are Bioplastics?
The research in this area is relatively new, and some scientists seem to argue over what Bioplastics means because it could include biodegradable plastics. Still, for this article, I am specifically going to use the following definition:
Bioplastics = Compostable Plastic.
Bioplastic is exclusively compostable and often made using microalgae or compostable plant products.
What are the positives of using Bioplastics?
Focussed explicitly on Algae-based plastics, the following positives can be applied to any plant-based bioplastic.
Algae absorb carbon dioxide.
As they grow, algae absorb carbon dioxide, reducing the amount of Co2 in the atmosphere. Therefore the production of algae plastic generates less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional plastic.
Smaller Carbon Footprint
Additionally, algae plastic has a smaller carbon footprint. It can be produced using renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power.
Unlike petroleum-based plastic, a finite resource. Algae is similar to biodegradable plastics because it is a renewable resource. They can be grown year-round, providing a steady supply of raw materials for the production of algae plastic.
Biodegradable Plastics versus Bioplastics
Algae plastic is more sustainable and environmentally friendly than traditional petroleum-based plastic and, in some cases, just a touch better than biodegradable plastics made from potato or corn starch. The algae are harvested and processed to extract their oil, which can then be used to make plastic.
What are the negatives of biodegradable and Bioplastics?
While biodegradable plastic has many environmental benefits compared to traditional petroleum-based plastic, it is a “new” technology, so naturally also has some drawbacks:
Biodegradable and Bioplastic are typically more expensive to produce than conventional plastic, making them less accessible to consumers.
However, this should become more manageable when production plants grow and take advantage of economies of scale.
Biodegradable plastic sometimes needs specific environmental conditions, such as high temperature and humidity. If the conditions are not suitable, plastic can persist in the environment for a long time and still threaten wildlife and the ecosystem.
Confusion with compostable plastic
There often needs to be clarity between biodegradable and compostable plastic, with many people assuming that biodegradable plastic can be composted at home. However, this is only sometimes the case, as biodegradable plastic may require specific industrial composting conditions to break down.
More infrastructure is needed for processing and disposing of biodegradable plastic to prevent the material from ending up in landfills where it lacks the necessary conditions to degrade.
Who makes biodegradable plastics in Europe?
These are the exciting companies that stand out for me in this industry. The more I delve into their world I don't understand why we aren't doing more of this. If Packaging is your business, get in touch with these fellows and change the world!
Novamont is devoted to advocating for a bioeconomy system built on the principle of effective resource utilisation and restoring the environment. From local regions, Novamont is constructing biorefineries dedicated to creating bioplastics and bioproducts of renewable origin to preserve the soil and water in defunct or economically unviable industrial facilities.
Biome Bioplastics (UK)
Biome Bioplastics is Biome Bioplastics is an exceptional UK-based organisation focused on creating clever, natural plastics. Their mission is to produce bioplastics that can compete with oil-based polymers and eventually supersede them.
FKuR Kunststoff GmbH (Germany)
FKuR provides a broad selection of bioplastics for the circular economy, *recyclates, and *bio-recyclate blends suitable for all processing techniques. They have a variety of alternative, environmentally conscious plastic solutions for multiple industries, and my husband is especially looking forward to the 3D printing options.
*what are recyclates and bio-recyclates? Materials that can be recycled or biodegradable.
Who is working on Compostable plastic in Europe?
Several European companies and research organisations are working on developing and commercialising compostable plastic. Industrial designers are coming up with new materials every week.
Two Dutch designers, Eric Klarenbeek and Maartje Dros have developed algae that can be 3D printed, as reported in the magazine dezeen. Look at their website for some of the incredible things they have done.
And in Turkey, a very exciting Designer, Alara ERTENÜ, created a product called Packioli. This is Packaging explicitly made for soap, but instead of algae, they use pea pods and artichoke waste.
Algae Innovations is a company that mass produces algae for various applications to replace plastic products entirely but in addition to creating food and cosmetic alternatives. They have created yet another rabbit hole I now need to explore because of my previous post on plastic cosmetic fillers.
Bloom Materials is an exciting company making products out of algae. They started with Yoga mats and have progressed to some fantastic shoes.
Biomimicry Labs in (France) is a research organisation that develops algae-based products, including biodegradable packaging materials. Janine Benyus (Biologist) founded the company in 1998. She set the institute believing that the answer to our plastic problem was in nature.
Ecoduna (Austria) is a company that produces algae-based ingredients for food, feed, and industrial applications, including bioplastics.
Its a biodegradable-wrap
These are just a few examples of European companies and organisations working on developing bioplastics. The field is rapidly evolving, and new companies and innovations are constantly emerging.
In conclusion, while biodegradable plastic offers many benefits, it is vital to consider its limitations and find ways to reduce plastic waste at the source, such as reusing and recycling.
While algae plastic is still in the early stages of development, it shows promise as a more sustainable alternative to traditional petroleum-based plastic.
To ensure a more sustainable future, people across the globe need to improve infrastructure and waste disposal to make it easier to ethically and responsibly discard their waste.
This is the answer to the plastics problem the world has been looking for. Let's support them!