Benefit of renewable resources and biodegradation

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The primary benefit and advantage in using bioplastics is their capability to improve the environmental impact of a product.

  • Reduction of greenhouse gas emission
  • Saving fossil fuels
  • Possibility of using a local resource
  • Reclamation of by-products

Generally, bioplastics contribute towards improving the environmental impact of products in two ways:

  • Use of renewable resources for monomers production: reduces the use of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Their biodegradable nature offers an additional option for the end-of-life of the products, which allows for a reduction in the amount of waste material.
The economic development of industrialised countries was largely based on intensive use of non-renewable resources. Today, faced with the exhaustion of fossil fuels and increase in the cost of their extraction, renewable vegetal resources are a sustainable alternative solution. Bioplastics that incorporate vegetal material in their manufacturing process are part of a new generation of materials called biobased plastics. Developing these materials has allowed for the creation of new pathways between the fields of agriculture, chemistry, and plastics engineering, and is in keeping with the approach of sustainable management of our resources.
Their biodegradable nature offers an additional option for the end-of-life of the products and allows for a reduction in the amount of waste material.
Saving fossil

Environmental impacts

The environmental impact of polymers (or other products) is measured and analysed within the context of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). This decision-making support tool allows listing, quantifying, and assessing the environmental impacts for all the steps of a production’s life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials to its end-of-life.

The ISO 14040 series of standards (external link ISO 14040) lists the best practices of execution of an LCA and thus ensures the reliability of the results.

Using vegetable sourced bioplastics as a replacement for fossil sourced polymers often allows for a significant reduction in the carbon footprint of the products depending on the applications. Generally, these assessments show the good performance levels of biobased polymers in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel savings.

These aspects can still be improved compared to the current situation. The biomass used until now has been primarily in competition with food applications and is often obtained through dedicated crops.

In certain cases, by-products like molasses, obtained from sugarcane, are already processed for producing biobased polymers (in this case, biobased PET).

Using by-products and waste material from different sectors is now being studied in several projects, on the local scale (COPROPLAST) as well as on the European scale (URBIOFIN).

These developments need to be implemented on an industrial scale within the coming years, while maintaining the objective of prioritising reclamation of biomass in keeping with an approach of eco-design and circular economy.