Insights / Sustainability

Bioplastic: Embracing Renewable Alternatives

Plastic bottles made from bio-based resins

Bioplastic is a renewable plastic made from bio-based resins, sourced from biomass and plants such as sugarcane, corn, and cellulose. Bio alternatives can have properties similar to or even identical to conventional plastic resins.

In March, bioplastics made news headlines when the Biden Administration announced its goal to replace 90% of fossil-fuel-based plastics with bio-based plastics within 20 years. Achieving such a goal will likely require massive investments in technology and infrastructure.

Why Bioplastics Matters

Bioplastic use helps reduce dependence on fossil fuels and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Life-cycle analysis demonstrates that bio-based resins contribute less greenhouse gas emissions than fossil-based plastic resins, depending on the feedstock, product, and application.

Compostable bioplastics offer end-of-life options beyond traditional recycling. They bring multiple benefits, such as producing nutrient-rich compost and promoting cleaner recycling streams by preventing food contamination.

Navigating Biodegradability Claims

  • Some bio-based resins are biodegradable. However, brand marketers should be extra cautious when making biodegradability claims, since biodegradation depends on adequate oxygenation, humidity, temperature, and other factors.

  • Some states, such as California, Maryland, and Washington, prohibit the term “biodegradable” in marketing claims related to plastic products. This rule is because “biodegradable” has been used to describe items that do not meet composting standards and are contaminants for commercial composters.
  • Another concern is potential consumer confusion over the term biodegradable. Some consumers might assume that biodegradable packaging will break down on its own in the environment, which may encourage littering.
  • Conventional plastic resins (i.e., PE, PET, and PP) can be produced from renewable resources, such as bioethanol. While bio-based PE, PET, and PP are not biodegradable, these biopolymers can be recycled in existing recycling streams because they are chemically identical to petroleum-based resins.

Bioplastic Applications

Because of their limited availability, bio-based resins are about three times more expensive than conventional plastic resins. With their higher price tag, bio-based resins are more likely to find applications among premium and high-margin products like organic foods, specialty/fancy foods, cosmetics, personal care, and cannabis.

Case Study: Wholesome Sweeteners

Wholesome Sweeteners plastic bottle with up to 30% plant-based PET

We collaborate with our customers to determine whether bioplastic in packaging is the best application for their product. As part of our sustainability capabilities, we also provide insights on evolving regulations, best labeling practices for compostable packaging, and more.

Studio One Eleven partnered with Wholesome Sweeteners to create a new package for its line of organic blue agave sweeteners. The Studio team designed a teardrop-shaped bottle with an embossed leaf a nod to the blue agave plant. The new bottle is fully recyclable and contains up to 30% plant-based PET, which reduces its carbon footprint compared to traditional fossil fuel-based PET plastic.

Explore related topics: Ocean-Bound Plastic, Life-Cycle Assessment, Compostable Packaging, Container Deposit/Refund Programs, Refillable & Reusable Packaging, Mechanical and Advanced Recycling, and PCR Resins

Robert Swientek

By: Robert Swientek
Date: June 27, 2023

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