Bioplastics – the beginning of a new era?

Next FuturEnergia chat will take place on 31 May from 10-11 CET. The chat will aim at giving an understanding of bioplastics, the newest members of the plastics family.

Promising research and development currently under way in Europe might soon allow for the production of plastics from CO2 emissions. But what do we mean when talking about bioplastics? What are their benefits? Will they help to fight litter?

The chat will give teachers and students the opportunity to raise questions directly to experts from industry and university: Francesca Aulenta, Plastic Affairs and Communications BASF, and J.H. Harry Bitter, Inorganic Chemistry and Catalysis, Utrecht University. More information on the experts.


What are bioplastics?

Bioplastics are niche products in the plastics portfolio that offer new properties and application possibilities. The word “bioplastic” refers to three classes of materials:

A) Bio-based polymers made in whole or in part from renewable resources. Corn, sugar cane or starch can be used to produce packaging with the same characteristics as fossil fuel-based plastics. They account for nearly 1% of the market, allow for further diversification in raw materials and are already used in healthcare and hygiene products, food and beverage packaging, cutlery, toys, bags, pipes, automotive applications and even consumer electronics. In spite of their origin, bio-based polymers are not necessarily biodegradable.

B) Biodegradable polymers: Made of fossil or biofuel, biodegradable/compostable plastics can be degraded by biological processes during composting. At their end of life, if directed to specific industrial composting environments, they will dissolve and decompose back into natural elements.

C) Bio-based and biodegradable polymers: plastics which have both A) and B) features.

Bioplastics vs. traditional plastics?

- Bioplastics are not contradictory to traditional plastics, but supplement the plastic portfolio as specialty products that offer new properties and application possibilities.

- The choice of best raw materials (fossil or renewable) and energy source (conventional or renewable) is based on sustainability criteria in each particular case.

- Applications should always focus on how biodegradability offers added value. For example, when used as biowaste bags, biodegradable plastics support clean separation and collection of organic waste. A free choice between incineration of waste to produce energy as well as biodegradability (composting and digestion) is meaningful in order to ensure that all waste plastics is a resource to guarantee environmental and economic benefits.

Plastics from biomass?

It is possible to produce plastics without the use of petroleum. Thanks to a new type of catalyst enabling efficient conversion to key components of various products including plastics, medicines and paint. The catalyst, which consists of tiny iron spheres, was developed by chemists at University Utrecht. According to Prof Krijn de Jong, “The products are exactly the same, only they are made of pruning waste instead of petroleum.” The invention has already sparked the interest of the chemical industry.

More information:



Would you like to participate? Are you interested in this event? Write to and register for this chat!

These are some indicative questions that can help students better understand the topic of the chat.

Students are encouraged to have a look at these questions in advance of the chat, do some background research, discuss in class and use these or other relevant questions when chatting with the expert.

1. Are biodegradable plastics a solution to littering problems?

2. Do renewable resources represent an alternative to fossil resources?

3. Is it possible to recycle bioplastics?

4. Are plastics from biomass sustainable?

5. Which other alternative resources could be used to produce plastics?

6. How can CO2 emissions be converted into plastics?

7. What happens if biodegradable plastics are mixed with recyclable waste?

8. Do plastics biodegrade in water?




Download the chat transcript here (doc).