Bioplastics: An Alternative to Conventional Plastics
Nowadays, you may have heard the term bioplastics many times. You may also have purchased bioplastic products. But have you ever wondered what exactly it is? What are their differences from conventional plastics? What categories are they divided into? In this article, we will have a quick overview of all of the above.
The plastic pollution, the inability of common plastics to decompose in the environment in a short period of time, has led to the term "bioplastics" to be used in research fields for several years. Imagine that many plastics need a lot of years to decompose, some, according to Greenpeace, remain in the ecosystem for even 600 years, depending on their ingredients and external conditions!
The term "bioplastics" was created to describe eco-friendly plastics. These are either based on biological materials (biobased) or are biodegradable, or have both of these properties.
So, we have 3 types of bioplastics:
· Biobased and biodegradable
More specifically, this type of bioplastics is called polymers whose carbon is partially or completely produced from renewable resources, such as proteins and lipids.
Biodegradable bioplastics are polymers that are converted into carbon dioxide, methane, water, inorganic compounds or biomass through the enzymatic action of bacteria, algae and fungi, under natural conditions and over a specific period of time. Biodegradable bioplastics differ from compostable bioplastics in the sense that the latter are only biodegradable in a controlled composting environment (aerobic environment) and are always compared to a control (cellulose) in the same aerobic environment. So, compostable bioplastics are a subset of biodegradable bioplastics.
Biobased and biodegradable
This group of bioplastics has both properties.
Therefore, not all bioplastics are biodegradable. Also, we may have biodegradable plastics that are not biobased, but are derived from petrochemical (mineral) materials. Finally, a bioplastic must meet specific conditions to be considered compostable. These conditions have to do with the chemical composition of the bioplastic in terms of organic matter, how quickly it degrades over time, the concentration of heavy metals in the final composted material and other conditions. These differ, of course, depending on the standard of measurements you follow. One of the most well-known is the EN-13432 standard.