Bioplastics – definition and assessment

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Contrary to the meaning of the word, bio-plastics are not in fact necessarily “organic.”

Rather, it is a word formation that is intended to serve a purpose. Namely, to describe a genus of plastics that are less harmful or even harmless to the environment.

The colloquial understanding of bioplastics is that they do not produce microplastics or plastic waste and do not emit toxins into the air when they may need to be incinerated, known as “thermal recycling.”

The German Federal Environment Agency stated the following in its “Expert Opinion on the Treatment of Biodegradable Plastics” (page 27):

“The term “bioplastics” refers to different materials and can be interpreted as follows:

1.

Recommendation of the Agency for Renewable Resources (FNR): “Bioplastics consist to a substantial extent or exclusively of renewable raw materials. Bioplastics are therefore biobased/biogenic plastics.” (FNR 2013)

2.

Recommendation of European Bioplastics (EUBP) and the Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites (IfBB):

According to this, a “bioplastic “exists,

a) as soon as a plastic consists partly or completely of renewable raw materials (biogenic/biobased plastic), but also,

or

b) if a biodegradability (biodegradable plastic) is given (IfBB 2017) (EUBP o.J.).

(…) Accordingly, a bioplastic can be

  • biobased and biodegradable at the same time
  • biobased and not biodegradable or else
  • petroleum-based and biodegradable.”

This expert opinion was prepared, among others, by authors from the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology UMSICHT in Oberhausen.

True to the nice guideline, according to which we are not technical know-it-alls but systemically thinking communication and strategy experts, we note for the moment that there is no definition of bioplastics that can be reliably and meaningfully referred to in the Circular Economy. In good conscience, we cannot positively evaluate and promote a terminology when it is so vague, multi-layered, and thus dubious, and may even promote the prolongation of a fossil fuel economy that is not based on renewable resources.

We therefore hold the following:

  • The word “bioplastic” must be carefully examined for meaningfulness and appropriateness every time it is used if one wants to avoid negligently drawing suspicion of greenwashing upon oneself.
  • In sustainability communication, therefore, there is room for good storytelling and the catchy explanation of genuine circular product and material properties, insofar as they exist.

Feel free to contact us at any time if you have questions or need concrete assistance.

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