Bio-based and biodegradable plastics – what is the difference?Posted 2021-08-24
Have you heard the term bio-based and biodegradable plastics? Are they the same or what is the difference? Let us start from the beginning.
Plastics, mainly fossil based, have since the beginning helped saving lives, in the medical care or automotive, or just made life better in many areas, like clothes or as a part of the digital revolution.
There is often some misunderstanding when talking about bioplastics. This matrix picture explains it in a good way:
- Plastic can be divided into bio-based and fossil-based, depending on the origin of the raw material. Plastic also can be divided into what is biodegradable or not.
- There are fossil materials, such as PBAT, that are classified as biodegradable.
Also, there are Bio-based materials that are not degradable, such as sugar cane-based PE, also called bio-PE or drop-in plastic.
- PLA is the most common bio-based and biodegradable material. Important to know is that it only biodegrades fast, during specific circumstances – meaning it cannot be thrown in the nature.
Okey, so that’s some facts about the different kind of plastics. But how are companies working with these questions?
“During the past years brand owners in most areas has set their sustainable targets meaning no fossil-based plastics, when possible. Reducing carbon footprint is the main drive”, explains Mats Jeppsson, Innovation Manager at Emballator Innovation Center.
If the goal is zero carbon footprint is biodegradable plastics the best solution?
“No… Pollution in sea and nature is another topic that now is on all plastic packaging producers’ agenda in discussions with customers. Focus is on driving circularity that also is reducing carbon footprint and if we all, including you and I, recycle our waste, means no plastics in the sea and nature. The problem remaining is that pollution keeps existing and then biodegradable plastics are lifted as the savior. This is not solving the route cause, instead it focuses on the symptom. With the biodegradable materials today, we don’t even fix the symptom since higher temperatures and/or microorganisms are needed. Many grades are only suitable for industrial composting plants, a system we don’t have infrastructure for in Sweden”, says Mats Jeppsson.
Emballator produces millions of plastic packaging every year. How does the company work with this?
“We believe that reduction of carbon footprint will be achieved by reusing the resources instead of “throwing” them away. Bio-based plastic (fossil-free) designed easy-to recycle are a perfect choice in most cases with its lightweight, flexibility and excellent barrier properties. In some cases biodegradable products are the right choice. For example, in teabags which in most cases are composted or sent to incineration. We offer products in bio-based material and we work hard with expanding that offer with new materials.”Back to news