What is degradable or biodegradable

Bioplastics: what is the difference between bio-based and biodegradable?

Bioplastics often cause confusion among consumers: what is it? How much organic is there really? How do I have to dispose of packaging films made of bioplastics? And what is the difference between bio-based and biodegradable plastics? We have summarized the most important things.

The new plastic is organic - or is it?

In fact, bioplastics used to be common practice: until the 1930s, plastics were made from renewable raw materials. It was not until the Second World War that fossil raw materials such as crude oil or natural gas were used instead. Today, attempts are being made to go back to the original type of plastic production - on the one hand to conserve fossil raw materials and on the other hand because they harm the climate.

Not all organic products are the same!

According to DIN EN 16575, the term bioplastic has two possible meanings:

Important: Not all plastic made from renewable raw materials is biodegradable, not all biodegradable plastic films are also bio-based.
Whether plastic packaging is biodegradable depends, for example, on further processing and can only be determined through experimental tests or you can find out in the description of our articles.

Bio-based and biodegradable packaging - that's inside

  • Packaging films made of bio-based plastics mostly consist of plants rich in starch and cellulose (maize, miscanthus, sugar cane) as well as oilseeds or wood.
  • Packaging films made of biodegradable plastics are made from thermoplastic starch, cellulose, degradable polyesters and polyactide (PLA), some others from petroleum.
Bio-based plastic films only consist to a certain extent of renewable raw materials.
To what extent a packaging made of bio-based plastic is actually bio-based can be determined experimentally in polymers and products or you can see the technical details of our articles. The share is usually given as a percentage.

Bioplastics and the fallacies of recycling

Everything for the bin?

Bio-based packaging

Because the bio-based films are usually not biodegradable at the same time and would have to be sorted out in the composting plant, this packaging is allowed under no circumstances in the brown organic waste bin be disposed of. Instead, like any other film packaging, it must also about the yellow bin be disposed of.

Biodegradable packaging

For reliable and fast composting of biodegradable films, certain requirements are necessary, which are only possible with one industrial composting can be achieved. With classic composting, the humidity and temperature conditions are insufficient, so that film residues would still be left in the finished compost.

Because there is so far only a few compostable packaging, disposal in separate composting facilities is usually neither possible nor sensible. Even if it seems logical to actually dispose of compostable films and products in the brown organic waste bin, this solution is currently not recommended from an ecological point of view. It is therefore currently only the usual way about the recycling garbage.

What does industrial composting mean?

The standards for industrial compostability are based on the conditions of a large-scale composting plant. Only under these conditions - if the Temperature high is (well above 60 ° C) if the Air humid is and everything is constant mixed so that enough oxygen comes in - bioplastic films can be broken down quickly and reliably. Many composting plants, on the other hand, work on a shorter, sometimes only six-week rhythm. That means: the organic waste has to break down into its components more quickly.

When is packaging industrially compostable?

Complete biodegradability is considered to be proven if biodegradation of at least 90% in less than 6 months takes place. To check this, samples of the test material are composted with organic waste for 3 months. The final compost is then sifted through a 2 mm sieve. The mass or residue of the test material with dimensions > 2 mm got to less than 10% the original mass.

A pilot-scale composting test will verify that it is no negative effects on the composting process gave. A plant growth test (OECD 208 modified) and other physico-chemical analyzes are applied to the compost in which the test material has broken down. In this way it can be determined whether there are low concentrations of heavy metals (below the specified maximum values) and that there are no negative effects on the final compost.

Look for existing certifications

Biodegradable packaging use that Seedling logo or that OK compost logo. The logos say that these plastics are 95 percent degraded in an industrial composting facility after 12 weeks. Here, too, industrial composting is the decisive factor. Degradation in the wild - regardless of the type of plastic - can actually take several years.

What remains? Advantages of bio-plastics

Bio-based plastic films

Reduce the use of fossil raw materials
Reduce greenhouse gas emissions during production

Biodegradable plastics

Also reduce the use of fossil raw materials
Are - at least industrially - compostable

Further information on the subject of bioplastics can be found here:

Do you still have questions about bioplastics?

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