Confusion among terms like bioplastics, bio-based and biodegradable plastics makes it hard to discern — and make — the environmentally responsible choice.
Have you ever stood in front of a supermarket shelf and wondered if you should buy that product made from bioplastics rather than the conventional kind? Many people assume all bioplastics are made from plants and can break down completely in the environment. But that’s not the case.
The term “bioplastics” is actually used for two separate things: bio-based plastics (plastics made at least partly from biological matter) and biodegradable plastics (plastics that can be completely broken down by microbes in a reasonable timeframe, given specific conditions). Not all bio-based plastics are biodegradable, and not all biodegradable plastics are bio-based. And even biodegradable plastics might not biodegrade in every environment. Sounds confusing? It certainly is.
“There are a lot of bioplastics or materials that are called bioplastics that are not biodegradable,” says Constance Ißbrücker, head of environmental affairs at the industry association European Bioplastics.