Bioplastics: Sorting the wood from the trees

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Packaging and labeling

With sustainable packaging rapidly becoming a priority for cosmetics companies, the buzz is around renewable and eco-friendly materials like bioplastics.

However, just because bioplastics are deemed to be biodegradeable does not make the decision to invest in them a clear cut one, said Sterling Anthony, a packaging consultant who gave a presentation at today's HBA conference programme in New York.

The decision to look for more renewable materials is being driven by the need for sustainability caused by the fact that resources are finite, for which bioplastics is a rapidly becoming a solution to this problem, Anthony says.

But it is not a straight forward equation, as bioplastics also raise questions, not just with regards sustainability, but also their composition and the way in which they can be marketed.

'Are bioplastics always greener?'​ is one question Anthony raised in his presentation.

He then went on to explain that bioplastics are often petroleum blends, most commonly consisting of around one third petroleum.

The fact that petroleum is not deemed to be a sustainable resource also raises the point that bioplastics can be blended with a range of other 'nasties', that are considered to be far from upholding the principles of green materials.

Anthony also points to the fact that interest groups and companies involved in the bioplastics area would have us beleive that the industry is a formidable force in the plastics packaging industry.

'The reality is that, aside all the sometimes misleading information that is often propigated, the fact is that the bioplastics category remains just a tiny part of the overall plastics packaging industry,'​ Anthony said.

However, he also pointed out that the potential the category holds is enormous.

Most popular within the bioplastics category is PLA, but one of the costs of that popularity is the fact that other industries, particularly the food industry, is competing to source PLA, which could lead to supply problems giventhat the category is still very young and relatively underdeveloped.

If sourcing does not prove to be the problem, recycling may just be a serious hurdle too. Anthony pointed to the facts that recylability of bioplastics may not be the most important point, instead it is the question of whether it will be recycled?

This is because the infrastructure for recycling centres and facilities is still in its infancy and needs further development before this question becomes a given.

Finally the most important question – can bioplastics advance the brand?

Vital points surrounding this question include wether or not it will support packaging changes and characteristics that are vital to the marketability and all-important consumer appeal for finished products, Anthony said.

Related topics Packaging & Design

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