Bioplastics are being researched all around the world and their uses range from packaging, automotive industry to medicine. Let’s look into some interesting facts that you probably didn’t know.
The first-ever human-made plastic was made from cellulose in 1855, so it was a bioplastic. Alexander Parkes made the discovery and he called it Parkesine. Nowadays, the material is known as celluloid.
The worldwide production capacity of bioplastics in 2019 was around 2.11 million tonnes per year, which constitutes only about 1 % of the world’s plastics production (1).
Bioplastics are used in a range of industries like medicine, automotive, packaging, catering, agriculture, textile, toys, building, and construction, etc. The packaging is still the number one application with more than 53%, with flexible packaging leading over the rigid one (2).
The region leading the bioplastic production is Asia with more than 45% of the global output, but Europe leads in research and development and it is also the world´s largest consumer of bioplastics.
Some types of bioplastics like PLA (Polylactic acid) can increase the shelf life of produce over food packaged in conventional plastics and consequently decrease food losses and food waste. (3)
The land used to cultivate the feedstock for bioplastic pollution encompasses less than 0.02% of all agricultural land. The land used for the manufacture of biofuels is 1%.
Most bioplastic labeled as compostable cannot be composted at home but must be sent to industrial composting facilities that have the conditions to break the bioplastics down. But two certifications will certify some products to being able to degrade in home composting conditions like lower temperatures and longer dwell times. The certifier TÜV AUSTRIA BELGIUM offers home compostability certification “Home Compostable DIN” and CERTCO has a certification “Home OK COMPOST”.
Recycling of many bioplastics (eg. PLA) is possible and it is the best option for its waste management, but unfortunately, due to insufficient quantities, it is rarely performed today. Currently, studies are being done to confirm that PLA could be recycled along with conventional plastics, which would dramatically improve the possibilities of recycling.
One of Coca-Cola´s sustainable policies was to launch PlantBottle™, a fully-recyclable PET bottle made with 100% plant-based material (4).
Henry Ford started experimenting with the use of bioplastics made of soy in the automotive industry already in the 1930s. His Model T. Ford used approximately 60 pounds of soybeans in the production of one car. Mr. Ford even established a Soy-lab in Michigan (5). The company produced so-called Soy-car, which was actually developed from synthetic plastics in the Soy-lab. Currently, Ford Motor Co. in collaboration with the tequila industry in Mexico is using waste agave fiber to produce automotive parts to make lighter cars and to improve the fuel economy