Bioplastics aren’t just about Biodegradability

Concerns about climate change have fueled increased interest in bioplastics, but there remains much confusion about this material. What are the exact benefits of bioplastics and how can firms capitalize on this trend?

Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to those days when our impact on the planet was a prediction of the future and not a present-day reality? Unfortunately, climate change has become an increasingly pressing issue in recent years. From the state of our water supply to the practices of major industries, concerns about preserving our planet have caused a growing interest in eco-friendly initiatives.

Among these current initiatives, one word keeps appearing again and again: sustainability. Whether it’s a matter of how food is grown and obtained, or the materials used to construct buildings, people are pressuring companies to demonstrate environmental savviness. The irony is that this demand sometimes conflicts with other desirable traits. For years, critics have blamed plastic for water pollution and contributing to greenhouse gases. But people also prize convenience, and plastic offers an easy way to store and ship goods that consumers want. The need to balance sustainability with convenience has led to a new class of materials known as bioplastics.

Confusion about the Benefits of Bioplastics Has Led to Slow Adoption

Unlike conventional petroleum-derived plastics, bioplastics are made from renewable biomass sources, which fit into the sustainable paradigm. Unfortunately, the benefits of bioplastics are poorly understood, making widespread adoption difficult.

For example, many people assume bioplastics are biodegradable. And while some bioplastics are biodegradable, not all are. This may not seem like a deal-breaker since oil-based plastics aren’t known for being biodegradable either, but bioplastics have been put forth as a means to curtail littering.[1] If bioplastics aren’t always biodegradable though, that plan clearly isn’t dependable.

Despite the varying degrees of biodegradability, there are other benefits of bioplastics. Due to the different source materials, bioplastics help reduce fossil fuel usage and leave behind a smaller carbon footprint. Both traits fall into the purview of meeting demand for eco-conscious practices and materials. Perhaps even more attractive for companies are estimates that bioplastic initiatives could contribute to $3.5 billion in environmental savings.[2]

The Benefits of Bioplastics Can Encourage Companies to Scale up Adoption Efforts

If the savings aren’t enough to encourage firms to consider bioplastic adoption, perhaps a glance at the market opportunity might provide another incentive. Bioplastic packaging in the food and beverage sector alone is predicted to surpass $28.5 billion in 2020. Given current trends toward prepared foods and convenient grab-and-go meal options, the need for plastic-based packaging isn’t going to decrease anytime soon. Because of this, firms have ample opportunity to find receptive markets for bioplastics.

In addition to sustainability, the benefits of bioplastics over conventional plastics include a glossy and attractive appearance that appeals to buyers, antistatic properties and even enhanced shelf life. To aid widespread adoption, it seems like these benefits of bioplastics should be highlighted and emphasized. Perhaps they can even be improved. Rather than concerning themselves with biodegradability, firms can develop bioplastics that focus on these specific traits. For example, a glossy appearance would be well-suited for eye-catching pre-packaged foods that consumers can easily grab from the grocery store. Maybe companies can develop bioplastic containers with better shelf lives for food storage.

Accomplishing these things will require the ability to develop bioplastics with these properties successfully and, perhaps more importantly, efficiently. After all, the demand for sustainability is here now and it is always in a firm’s best interest to meet those needs as soon as possible. The company that can do so first is often the one that gains market advantage.

More work needs to be done before bioplastics gain widespread traction but signs show that if they can be positioned properly, there’s a high chance that they’ll be embraced. The first market may be food and beverage, but more are sure to follow. And to help the expansion along, companies can develop bioplastics to target specialized areas.

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References

[1] “Bioplastics simplified – and not just for dummies,” March 31, 2016, http://www.plasticstoday.com/sustainability/bioplastics-simplified-and-not-just-dummies/1079699424402

[2] “Recycled, Bioplastics’ $3.5 Billion Savings Opportunity,” May 23, 2016, http://www.environmentalleader.com/2016/05/23/recycled-bioplastics-3-5-billion-savings-opportunity/

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