Bioplastics, Featured

A Fresh Take on Bioplastics

February 11, 2021

The SPC has launched an updated version of our popular course, The Essentials of Bioplastics, with new resources that answer the most commonly asked questions about bioplastics. The updated course dives into the sourcing and end-of-life considerations for bio-based and biodegradable plastics, exploring the entire family of bioplastics.  

With this latest version, the course answers three key questions companies often have about bioplastics: 


  • How does the environmental footprint of bioplastics compare to traditional plastics?

Many brands are turning to bioplastics as a result of their goal to source renewable content. But do bioplastics have lower environmental footprints than traditional plastics? It can be difficult to make accurate predictions. Instead, companies can use life cycle assessments to better understand how bioplastics compare to traditional plastics. While these assessments use industry average data that might not perfectly match specific materials, it is a great way to get a general understanding for the environmental profile of bioplastics. 

For example, in the Essentials of Bioplastics course we use the COMPASS tool to create several streamlined life cycle assessments. These analyses show how different materials compare in terms of fossil fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, and other environmental indicators. The assessments allow us to compare bio-based HDPE to fossil-based HDPE, fossil-based LDPE to modified starch, and PET to PLA. 

  • Do bioplastics compete with food for land?

One of the most common bio-based bioplastics questions is whether the feedstocks are in competition with the land needed for feeding the global population, and whether using feedstocks, like corn, for bioplastics diverts nutrients away from people. Using data from the Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites, it shows that bioplastics make up only a tiny portion of global land use. 

Another important fact to consider is global food scarcity. The world is primarily short of protein, not of carbohydrates such as sugar and starch. It is these carbohydrates that are typically directed toward industrial material uses, while the oils and proteins of plants are often used for food and animal feed. 

  • What do today’s bioplastics innovations look like?

The industry is seeing a trend in developing bioplastics from new, previously untapped plant matter, which spurred the addition of a brand new section in the course dedicated to the Innovations in Bioplastics. Bio-based plastics are made from biomass, which means that the scope of the sources of these products can be wide-ranging. Any plant matter theoretically holds the potential to be used as the source of energy for producing new bioplastics, and today it seems no material is too strange or niche to be considered. The refreshed Essentials of Bioplastics course explores bioplastics made from food byproducts, plant waste, crustacean waste, kelp, seaweed, algae, and wood-based materials. 

As more companies explore the wide-ranging scope of bioplastics to meet their packaging sustainability goals, we’re excited to offer updated resources for better understanding the diverse landscape of bioplastics.