Plastics and Innovation

The growing enthusiasm about bioplastics.
The environmental consequence of the fossil fuel-based plastics production has stimulated harsh criticism regarding their usage and has produced a significant rethinking of their sustainable product development position. Seeing that only 9% of all plastic is being recycled and considering the ban of single-use plastics in several countries worldwide, more and more companies, be these small or large enterprises, are attempting to leverage this “dubious” opportunity.

Bioplastics are still a drop of water in the ocean of plastics, accounting for only 1% of the total amount of plastics, including several types from fossil-based bioplastics to plant-based bioplastics, with most of them in their infancy, but the market is snowballing.
It is very important to mention that not all bioplastics are actually bio. The term bioplastics itself involves a wide range of plastics, including the previously named plant-based or fossil-based sources. This includes biodegradable and bio compostable bioplastics classified into five types based on their origin and biodegradability, and this is where the confusion comes up. They can be as little as 25% plant-based, and almost 80% of bioplastic is not designed to be degradable at all.

But the real question is, what is the deal with these plastics? Are they indeed a solution or just another green product for green marketing campaigns?
Even though some questions are in terms of feasibility and legislation, the promises they intend to keep are formidable. Especially in terms of reducing the carbon footprint, the potential to reduce the oil dependence, enhancing technical characteristics in several niche markets and a wide range of end of life options. All of these solutions are related to the “Closed-Loop Economy.” The main idea behind this is to consider the plastics that come from the earth and return them to the earth by adding value in each step of the loop until they can be composted or recycled.

Nowadays companies, or especially brand owners who are keen on differentiating their brand following the trend of sustainable solutions, see several opportunities to do so. Lego became the latest corporation joining the club of “100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025” together with big players like Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and Ikea. Many companies are starting to adopt the material, with the European Union leading the charge and other regions quickly following suit.
But the real “blast” of bioplastics is in packaging, accounting for nearly 50% of bioplastics production, followed by textiles and several new entries in the automotive and medical industries. Should we doubt the practice in other fields? I guess not. According to research, bioplastics can replace up to 50% of the total plastics market by slipping from niche markets to the mass market. Additionally, considering the rise of the environmental-conscious millennials and Gen- Zs by fostering the demand among the whole value chain, a clear and bright future is expected for bioplastics in the coming years.