Currently most industrial polymers and plastics are produced from non-renewable, oil or gas-based resources. In recent years there has been an increasing focus on environmental issues such as climate change and fossil fuel depletion. This has led to increased interest in “bioplastics” made from renewable resources.
The term bioplastics encompasses a whole family of materials which are bio-based, degradable, or both. This can lead to confusion so we have tried to describe the different terms as simply as possible here.
The term “bio-based” plastics refer to the origin of the materials from which the plastic is made. The term “biodegradable” plastics is all about the end of life for the plastic.
|Types of Plastics commonly referred to as Bioplastics|
|Bio-based Plastic||Plastic derived entirely or partially from renewable resources (biomass).|
|Degradable Plastic||Often used to refer to a ‘traditional’ plastic containing a chemical additive that causes the plastic to undergo significant change in its chemical structure resulting in the plastic breaking down into smaller particles. The degradation process is triggered only when material is exposed to specific environmental conditions (such as UV, heat and moisture).|
Plastics capable of being broken down by microorganisms in the presence of oxygen (aerobic) to carbon dioxide, water, biomass and mineral salts or any other elements that are present (mineralisation).
In the absence of oxygen (anaerobic), it is able to be broken down to carbon dioxide, methane, water and biomass and mineral salts or any other elements that are present (mineralisation).
Are degradable due to a biological process occurring during composting and are converted into carbon dioxide, water, mineral salts and biomass. There are no toxic side effects like toxic residue for water, soil, plants, or living organisms.
There is very strong growth in the markets for bioplastics around the world, Global production of bioplastics and biodegradable plastics, was around 1.2 million tonnes in 2011, which is less than 1% of the global plastics supply. However, this is expected to increase uo to 5-fold to 5.8 million tonnes by 2016.