According to European Bioplastics, the association representing the industry in Europe, bioplastics are not just one single material, but comprise a whole family of materials with different properties and applications that comply with one of the following three features: biobased, biodegradable or both.
The term ‘biobased’ means that the material or product is derived — at least partially — from biomass, such as corn, starch, sugar cane, cellulose or other raw materials that are not included in the human or breeding food chain. Biodegradable means that the material can perform a chemical process during which microorganisms convert materials into natural substances, without the need for any artificial additives. Biobased and biodegradable are not, therefore, synonyms, as the biodegradation process does not depend on the resource basis of a material, but rather is linked to its chemical structure.
Bioplastics represent an answer for the industry to develop a more circular economy, that — according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation — is “restorative and regenerative by design, aiming to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times, distinguishing between technical and biological cycles”. With this definition in mind, bioplastics fit into this new economic concept as they help to break away from the linear economy characterised by ‘make, use, dispose of’ in favour of a more circular model based on ‘make, use, reuse, recycle’, contributing to closing the loop in regenerating CO2 and using renewable raw materials to make everyday products more sustainable.