How good are Bioplastics for the environment?

05. September 2019 | Plastics, Material | via


Are Bioplastics really the solution? (Credit:

There has been massive pushback against the use of plastics over the past few years states an article on, including single-use plastic bans in cities all over the world. Industrial entrepreneurs have responded to these mounting concerns with a new product that seems like the perfect solution– bioplastic. It looks and feels like plastic, but its made from plants, so it’s good for the environment, right?

What are bioplastics?

Traditional plastic is a petroleum-derived product that is made from fossil fuels. In fact, 8 percent of all oil is used for the production of plastic. Bioplastic, on the other hand, is made at least partly from plant-based materials. There are two subcategories of bioplastics that are important to understand:

Bio-based plastics

These plastics are entirely or partially made from plant-based materials. Most are made from sugarcane that is processed in industrial ethanol facilities, but some bioplastics use corn and other plant materials. The plant materials are used in a lab to create chemical compounds that are identical to petroleum-based compounds. For example, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) can be made from either plant or petroleum products, but the end material is the same and it is not biodegradable.

“There are a lot of bioplastics or materials that are called bioplastics that are not biodegradable,” said Constance Ißbrücker, the lead for environmental affairs at European Bioplastics.

There are two main types of bioplastic produced: polyactic acid (PLA) and polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). PLA is made from plant sugars, while PHA is made from microbes that produce the substance when they are deprived of nutrients.

Biodegradable plastics

Biodegradable plastics are typically plant-based items that can be broken down by microbes within a reasonable time frame. All biodegradable plastics, however, require very specific conditions within an industrial composting facility. Otherwise, these so-called “biodegradable plastics” also function like petroleum-based plastic and remain in the environment for hundreds of years.