Biobased Plastics in a Circular Economy

Source: CE Delft  
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This research, done at the request of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, offers a foundation to further enhance government policy with regard to bioplastics. Independent research and consultancy organisation CE Delft has investigated the sustainability of biobased plastics and has drawn conclusions about the greenhouse gas balance, the use of natural resources, its relation to litter and the plastic soup, and the options for processing bioplastics at at the end of its life span. (September 2017)

Bioplastics tend to have a lower climate impact besides requiring a limited use of fossil fuels in comparison to similar fossil resources. For its production however it depends on natural resources, such as land and water. Therefore CE Delft recommends using sustainable criteria as a condition for interventions in policy.

Plastic soup

There are two types of bioplastics, biodegradable bioplastics and non-biodegradable bioplastics. CE Delft recommends recycling the non-biodegradable bioplastics through the available systems. Recycling minimizes the environmental costs as well as the use of natural resources. The policy for biodegradable plastics should focus exclusively on situations where the biodegradability is 1) functional, as for example the agriculture and horticulture sectors and/or 2) has co-benefits, like enabling the collection of naturel waste. Biodegradable bioplastics do not offer a solution for the litter problem; its decomposition takes too long. The ‘plastic soup’ can be reduced when biodegradable plastics are used in instances were microplastics are released during consumption.

Conclusion

It is concluded that bioplastics can play an important role in the sustainable circular economy. The combination of a high percentage of recycling and replacing the limited amount of natural resources needed by biobased resources offers an interesting scenario for the future. CE Delft presents nine policy-based suggestion to take further steps in that direction.

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