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Bioplastics : An important component of global sustainability

Bioplastics are either

biobased or biodegradable
or both. Plastics are a vital
asset for humanity, often
providing functionality that
cannot be easily or
economically replaced by
other materials. Most
plastics are robust and last
for hundreds of years.
What is a bioplastic?
A bioplastic is a plastic that is made partly or wholly from
polymers derived from biological sources such as
sugarcane, potato starch or the cellulose from trees,
straw and cotton. Some bioplastics degrade in the open
air, others are made so that they compost in an industrial
composting plant, aided by fungi, bacteria and enzymes.
Others mimic the robustness and durability of
conventional plastics such as polyethylene or PET.
Bioplastics can generally be directly substituted for their
oil-based equivalent. Indeed, they can generally be made
to be chemically identical to the standard industrial
The world plastics industry and the
role of bioplastics.
The annual output of the world’s plastics industry is
about 225 million tones a year. This number has
grown by a few per cent per year over the last
decade. The bioplastics industry is much smaller, with
2011 probably seeing a total output of about 1m
tones, or less than half of one per cent of total world
plastics output. But the growth rate of bioplastics is
much higher. Most sources suggest that this part of
the plastics industry is growing at least 20% a year.
The reasons for this buoyancy are discussed later in
this note.
Two types of use :
Items that might eventually become litter

Eg: such as shopping bags or food packaging

Permanent bioplastics

Eg: such as polythene manufactured from sugar

The benefits from using bioplastics

Major consumer goods brands and


The value of the reduction in

landfill/expensive preparation for

The advantages of bioplastics:

• Potentially a much lower carbon footprint

• Lower energy costs in manufacture
• Do not use scarce crude oil
• Reduction in litter and improved
compostability from using biodegradable
• Improved acceptability to many households
Bioplastics demand will continue
to grow:
Continued research and development in bioplastics is
creating high quality products for a wide variety of
Now that the benefits of biologically sourced plastics are
well-understood, their market share is likely to rise sharply.
The three drivers of growth – the importance of brand
image to consumer goods companies, the value of joint
composting and the reduction of litter – will provide the
spur for continued growth in bioplastics across the world.
Bioplastics are an important part of the move to
a more sustainable world.
Bioplastics, currently accounting for less than half of one per
cent of all plastics manufacture, are growing rapidly because of
the clear advantages they have in many applications. As oil
supply tightens, these advantages will grow. Their carbon
footprint can be much lower than oil-based equivalents.
Bioplastics can provide excellent biodegradability, helping the
world deal with the increasing problems of litter, particularly in
the world’s rivers and seas. Durable plant-based bioplastics can
also be recycled as well as their conventional equivalents,
assisting the growth of a more sustainable world economy.