Bioplastics. Biodegradable plastics. Compostable plastics. Recycled plastics. Sustainable plastics ... What does it all mean? With green terms being thrown around the industry lately, many are confused about what each means and how each measures up against the performance of petroleum-based plastics.
The following are paraphrased American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) definitions for green plastics:
- Biodegradable—a plastic in which degradation results from the action of naturally occurring microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi and algae.
- Compostable—a plastic that undergoes biological degradation during composting to yield carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass at a rate consistent with other compostable materials. It leaves no visually distinguishable or toxic residues.
- Degradable—a plastic designed to undergo significant change in its chemical structure under specific environmental conditions, resulting in a loss of some properties that may vary as measured by standard test methods appropriate to the plastic and application in a period of time that determines its classification.
- Sustainable—a plastic that is developed to minimize long-term effects on the environment and that can be continually renewed.
- Bioplastics—a plastic derived from biomass sources.
Room To Grow Opportunities in the green plastics market are up, especially if you can guarantee the same or better performance in certain plastics properties, occupying a safe niche for specific applications.
Bob Findlen, Telles sales and marketing vice president, believes, “The capacity of bioplastics today dwarfs in comparison to the capacity of the petroleum-based materials. While no single bioplastic can replace all petroleum-based plastics in the market, each type of bioplastic offers unique benefits to meet the needs of the end user—some have higher heat tolerance, others better clarity.
“Through research and development, innovative companies will continue making advancements in the production of bioplastics. For example, Metabolix is developing a proprietary platform technology for coproducing plastics and chemicals in non-food bioenergy crops—such as switchgrass, oilseeds and sugarcane—enhancing the economics of biofuels production.”