Bioplastics are plasticmaterials based on renewable raw materials that are often more sustainable than petrochemical (traditional) plastics. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research is involved in the development and application of bioplastics for a wide range of products for decades.

Sustainability of bioplastics

The sustainability of bioplastics is reflected in lower CO2 emissions during the production stage and a considerably reduced use of fossil feedstock. Sometimes the term bioplastics is also used for ‘biodegradable plastics’. These plastics offer benefits in the waste stage, for example when they are used in agricultural products (mulch film, plant pots) or food packaging.

Commercial examples

An increasing number of companies are interested in the development and application of bioplastics. Current products on the market include biodegradable waste bags and compostable films for packaging organic vegetables (based on polylactic acid). The ‘plant bottle’ from Coca Cola, made from bio-PET, is a well-known example, as are the Activia bottles from Bio-PE. This clearly shows the versatility of bioplastics.

Read more: Sugar beet as a raw material for soft drink bottles (project)

Bioplastics through the years

The development of biodegradable plastics was initiated in the 1980s when there was an increasing interest in waste problems. Examples include starch based plastics, PLA and PHAs (plastics produced by micro-organisms) and various polyesters.

Since 2000 the focus is more on the sustainability of plastics and preventing excess consumption of fossil feedstocks. In addition to ‘novel’  bioplastics such as PLA and PHAs, we therefore increasingly work with so-called ‘drop-in’ biobased plastics such as bio-PET, bio-PE and biobased nylons. Bio-PE and bio-PET are chemically identical to traditional PE and PET; only the origin of the raw materials (renewable instead of fossil) is different. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research is currently working on a new group of bioplastics based on building blocks that are efficiently developed from biomass. Examples are furan- and isosorbide-based plastics. The efficient production of building blocks results in a low cost price and a high level of sustainability. Moreover, these new bioplastics offer interesting characteristics such as good barrier properties and a high maximum heat deflection temperature (HDT).

European frontrunner

Wageningen Food & Biobased Research is a European frontrunner in research into and the product development of bioplastics. Commissioned by companies, we perform research into materials and solutions based on biobased building materials on a laboratory, pilot or semi-industrial scale.