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Bioplastics: A Move Towards Sustainable Packaging or Deceptive Marketing?

The increasing awareness regarding environmental issues and the need for sustainable alternatives to traditional plastics has been a major driving force behind the growth of the bioplastics market. New “bio-based” technologies and innovations are increasing, with the intent to replace conventional fossil-based packaging as a “greener” alternative. However, what remains unclear is the term “bioplastics” itself. Bioplastics are considered relatively new materials and their composition, disposal, and level of sustainability remain ambiguous. As a result, concerns about deceptive marketing practices and greenwashing have come underway.

A "bioplastic" is defined as a type of plastic that is bio-based, biodegradable, or features both properties. Bioplastics can be either partially or fully derived from bio-based feedstocks such as corn starch, sugarcane, and of course seaweed. However, not all bioplastics are the same. The term "biodegradable" can be misleading as some bio-based plastics may not biodegrade due to their chemical composition. A material labeled as “biodegradable” refers to its ability to break down naturally over time, and subsequently be absorbed by the environment, typically through the action of microorganisms. Packaging labeled as “bio-based” are not always “biodegradable” and vice versa.

A materials ability to biodegrade does not solely depend on the plant-based composition, but rather its chemical structure. For example, as listed below in the chart, some bioplastics such as BIO-PE and BIO-PET are “bio-based” but are non-biodegradable because of their chemical composition. The chemical structure mirrors fossil-based ones, thus inhibiting their ability to biodegrade. When analyzing a materials level of sustainability, it is crucial to asses the materials feedstock and overall Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).

Composting addresses end-of-life issues and promotes a more sustainable ecosystem. A materials ability to biodegrade is often closely associated with its ability to compost, either industrially or at home. “Composting” is a natural process that involves the breakdown of organic materials, such as food scraps, yard waste,

and other biodegradable materials, into a nutrient-rich substance called compost. Organic matter breaks down under specific conditions, and creates an ideal environment for microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and worms, to break down the organic matter. Specific environmental conditions, such as temperature and humidity, are key factors when determining whether the material will biodegrade, and at what rate. Composting benefits include nutrient-rich soil, greenhouse gas reduction, resource conservation, and contributing to a more sustainable and resilient ecosystem.

An important distinction between various bioplastics is the materials ability to compost industrially or at home. Industrially compostable materials require an even more specific set of conditions to compost. In some areas, the lack of composting facilities and infrastructure can limit the intended benefits of the product. On the other hand, home compostable materials require less specific conditions and can be done in one’s backyard. Composting is a significant factor for packaging because it addresses the issues posed by the end-of-life (EOL) of materials. Traditional waste streams typically have three possible end-of-life scenarios: 1) Rubbish is sent to landfills and emit potent greenhouse gas emissions such as methane. 2) Rubbish leaks into natural environments resulting in pollution. 3) Incineration. Unlike the latter, composting offers a more circular and sustainable approach to managing organic waste, and has numerous environmental benefits.

So where does B’ZEOS lie here? B’ZEOS products are 100% biodegradable, bio-based, and home-compostable. Our products are hyper-compostable, since the materials have the ability to biodegrade in less than 47 days. Additionally, seaweed is a third-generation feedstock, indicating that it does not require fresh water, land, fertilizers, and pesticides to grow. B'ZEOS products always ensure sustainability and transparency from start to finish. Understanding the composition of bioplastics, and their ability to biodegrade and compost is essential for making informed choices and promoting a genuinely sustainable product and future.

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