Bioplastic White Paper

Bioplastic: The Good, Bad and Ugly

Click here to download our white paper:

Bioplastics are Not a Silver Bullet Sustainability Solution

Click here to download our infographic: Packaging Recommendations

When to Use Bioplastic, Plastic or Paper

Click here to download our infographic:

Types of Bioplastic

Executive Summary

With 19 million tons of bioplastics produced annually, interest around this material is growing substantially. Bioplastic is a broad term, typically used to describe any plastic that is made from 20 percent or more of renewable materials derived from biological sources, such as corn, sugarcane, potato starch or the cellulose from trees and straw. In fact, biopplastic can also be used to describe a material that is made with traditional petroleum and is biodegradable.

This broad usage of the term “bioplastics” has led to tremendous confusion and misguidance on when, why and how to use bioplastic.

When asking whether or not your company should embrace bioplastic packaging, you’ll want to take the line of questioning a few steps farther: What kind of bioplastic are you exploring (renewable and recyclable, renewable and compostable, nonrenewable and compostable?) and “to what end"? 

Often, people assume bioplastic is the way to solve the challenge of plastic existing "forever" in landfills and/or our tragic marine plastic pollution crisis. Unfortunately that is not the case, because the vast majority of bioplastic will not biodegrade in ocean and/or landfill environments, and instead, behaves just like traditional plastic. Eliminating litter (and improving waste management) in developing nations and creating stronger markets for recycled plastic are important next steps. 

Bioplastic, compostable solutions have an important place in the world of single-use packaging, specifically in the world of food packaging. Why? Because, over time, this type of packaging can encourage more and more food to be composted, which is the ideal end of life scenario for food that would otherwise be landfill-bound.

When it comes to ecommerce packaging, EcoEnclose believes that bioplastic is not the silver bullet solution. Instead, packaging made with as much recycled content as possible and that are as easily recyclable as possible are preferred. This is because of the high likelihood that bioplastic packaging will be sent to the landfill (or even worse, will contaminate recycling or compost streams) and because it is made with 100% virgin material (and therefore offers no solution to the challenge of what to do with our existing plastic waste). 

When the functional and cost benefits of plastic are needed, use 100 percent recycled plastic. When this is not the case and you are focused on optimal end-of-life - 100 percent recycled paper can be a great solution.

Most importantly, when it comes to sustainable packaging materials, be a thoughtful buyer. As this white paper illustrates, the world of bioplastic is complex and confusing, and largely unregulated in terms of what companies are allowed to say on their products.

If you see bioplastic packaging that claims to be recycled, recyclable, and biodegradable, ask the supplier lots of questions. There is a high probability that these claims are untrue, or are at least unverifiable.

Ask for:

  • A breakdown of source materials in the packaging

  • Exact percentage of material in the packaging that is recycled

  • What makes the material biodegradable

  • Any certifications related to biodegradability or compostability they can share

  • Any verification related to the recyclability of the material they can share

  • Information on where the raw material and final packaging is manufactured

If you don’t get answers to the above, proceed with caution. Be thoughtful about how you present this packaging to your customers, so you don’t mislead them or cause them to dispose of this packaging irresponsibly.