Are bioplastics really better for the environment than traditional plastics?
The bioplastics market is expanding rapidly and by 2030 could account for 10 per cent of the total plastics market. But as the market grows so to does the public discussion whether these new plastics, that are based on biomass instead of mineral oil, really do have ecological advantages.
Oliver Schmid, Managing Director of Proganic, whose company commissioned the study and use bio-based plastics in a range of products such as garden and household goods, said: "More and more customers are interested in bio-based solutions, but only in those possessing distinct ecological advantages."
"We owe it to our customers to generate reliable data and make these available to them,” he added.
The study found that producing plastics from bio-based polymers like polylactic acid (PLA) and polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) rather than petrochemical alternatives significantly reduces emissions of greenhouse gases and also the use of fossil raw materials – two criteria that are playing a major role in current political and public discussion.
Michael Carus, co-author and managing director of nova-Institut, expressed his surprise at the results: “After the excited public debates of recent months we hadn’t expected such a clear result, the more so as bio-based plastics are still at the beginning of their development. So the meta-analysis not only shows the advantages already existing today, but also the substantial ecological potential as a result of further process optimisations.”
The biggest greenhouse gas emission savings were found when bio-based polymers replaced polycarbonate (PC). If you replace PC with bio-based PLA the average savings amounted to 4.7 kilograms of CO2 equivalent per kilogram of plastic (kgCO2eq/kg) and this increased to 5.8 kgCO2eq/kg for PHA.
In comparison when using bio-based polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polystyrene (PS) rather than traditional PET or PS, savings ranged from between 2.5 and 4.2 kgCO2eq/kg. The lowest savings were found when comparing bio-based polymers to fossil-based polypropylene (PP).