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Bioplastics

BIOPLASTICS

for eCommerce packaging

Understanding what biopolymers are on the market, what questions to ask when sourcing materials, and making sense of the complex use cases of biopolymers.

Types of Polymers

Bioplastic Polymer Overview

Our Research

White Papers | Blogs | Matrices

Our Conclusions

When and How to use Bioplastic Packaging


Types of Polymers

PVOH and PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol)

dishwasher detergent tablets
Glue (polyvinyl acetate), water (through hydrolysis), and petroleum-based (PV).
Yes
New: a unique formulation that does not try to mimic a traditional petroleum-based plastic.
Used in dissolvable plastics including those used for food and medical, dishwasher and laundy detergents, and capsules meant for interaction with water.
Dissolved down the drain and water soluble.
EcoEnclose's Stance: This type of plastic is a perfect fit when the item is going to dissolve anyway. It could be appropriate to incorporate into paper-based packaging in very low volumes by weight in order to provide critical structural or strength properties. It should not be used as packaging in and of itself.
 
Research is still being done on the impact that this polymer has on the aquatic environment. A 2021 study recommends strict prudence when using this polymer widely for disposal in water.

Bio-PE and Bio-PET

laundry soap bottles
Sugarcane-sourced ethanol.
Yes
Drop-In: designed to mimic petroleum-based plastic counterparts; have the same end-of-life characteristics as the petroleum-based alternatives they mimic.
Used in LDPE, LLDPE, HDPE applications including thin film and rigid plastics.
Recycling.
EcoEnclose's Stance: These drop-in biopolymers are a great alternative to virgin polymers where they're required. Ideally, the source feedstock is regenerative and is used only when recycled plastics are not available or possible for the structure.

PLA and PBAT

plastic bag in compost
PLA: corn-based
PBAT: petroleum-based
Yes
New: a unique formulation that does not try to mimic a traditional petroleum-based plastic.
Initially used in food and beverage packaging and is now being used more broadly for other packaging applications.
Home or industrial compost.
EcoEnclose's Stance: These plastics should only be used as packaging for food or other material that should be composted. They should not be used for eCommerce or other clean packaging applications.

PBS

plastic cutlery
Polybutyl succinate which is currently petroleum-based. There is a potential to use monocrop agricultural waste as the feedstock.
Yes, however, it is possible to be circular if using existing waste streams, i.e. agricultural residues.
New: a unique formulation that does not try to mimic a traditional petroleum-based plastic.
Used for biomedical, agricultural applications and mulch films, food packaging, and tableware.
Biodegradation or industrial compost. Not backyard/home compostable certified and not recyclable.

EcoEnclose's Stance: Our preference is for materials that are readily recyclable.

PHA and PHB

compostable straws
Sugars, starches, and methane. This polymer is created through microbial digestion, camelina crop that is potentially regenerative, kelp and algae, and organic food waste.
Yes, however, it is possible to be circular if using existing waste streams, i.e. agricultural residues or municipal mixed compost.
New: a unique formulation that does not try to mimic a traditional petroleum-based plastic.
Applications where biodegration is a must such as fertilizer coatings, sutures, and agricultural applications.
Biodegradation in ambient environments. Not recyclable.

EcoEnclose's Stance: Our preference is for materials that are readily recyclable.

PEF

plastic packaging
Ethylene Glycol (petroleum-based, used to produce sealants and antifreeze), and FDCA (bio-based, generated when sugars are cooked or heated).
Yes
Drop-In: designed to mimic petroleum-based plastic counterparts; have the same end-of-life characteristics as the petroleum-based alternatives they mimic.
Processed food additive (flavor or biomarker).
Recyclable and not biodegradable.
EcoEnclose's Stance: The inputs of this polymer could be promising if using an existing waste stream feedstock like municipal compost or food waste. It could also be an interesting application for PET purposes.

Cellophane (Cellulose)

plastic packaging
Cotton, wood, or hemp.
Yes
New: a unique formulation that does not try to mimic a traditional petroleum-based plastic.
Clear films, food packaging, and packaging for products meant to biodegrade.
Biodegradation and industrial composting.
EcoEnclose's Stance: This polymer is OK when necessary assuming the feedstock inputs are produced in a net neutral or positive way (carbon, land use, and regenerative agricultural practices, existing cropland and not requiring deforestation or land conversion to produce cropland). It is not necessary or applicable for most eCommerce packaging applications.

Polymer Additives

BDP and BFA

plastic bags
Unclear. Likely petroleum-based. Known as a compound from crude oil production.
Unclear, but likely.
New: a unique formulation that does not try to mimic a traditional petroleum-based plastic.
Used as an additive for plastic films and resins. Included in the production process of plastics.
Biodegradation and industrial composting.
EcoEnclose's Stance: We don't believe these additives enhance plastic's sustainability factors. When plastics with this additive are landfilled, they cause the plastic to break down faster, and in its anaerobic environment, this causes methane production via landfill gas. These additives can also cause massive consumer greenwashing and make plastic disposal methods unclear to consumers, leading them to be incorrectly recycled or landfilled.

Bioplastics Video Recap

Prefer to listen instead of read? Our Bioplastics and Dissolvable Plastics Crash Course video walks you through the main concepts of our white paper and research.

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Our Research

WHITE PAPERS


BLOG POSTS


Matrices Recap

general bioplastics overview matrix
bioplastics materials matrix
bioplastics inputs matrix
bioplastics disposal matrix

Our Conclusions

WHEN AND HOW TO USE BIOPLASTIC PACKAGING

These questions help create a larger framework for assessing materials. At EcoEnclose, we use a Sustainable Packaging Framework to allow us to do the same fundamental assessment for packaging materials and products that come on the market. That way, we don’t have to research all of the ins and outs of each product to determine whether we support it, use it ourselves, or offer it to our customers.

  • What is the feedstock (source inputs) for this polymer?
    • Is it petroleum-based?
    • Is it grown in a degenerative way (i.e.massive monocrops like corn & sugarcane)?
    • Could it be created with regenerative inputs or novel waste streams?
    • Could it be created in a net-neutral or net positive way?
  • Is the feedstock degenerative by nature? In other words, is it net-positive, neutral, or negative in the following categories:
    • Land Impact
      • What is its land-use?
      • Does it require (now or in the future) clear-cutting of critical ecosystems for farming?
      • Does it threaten ancient or endangered forests?
      • Is it a monocrop?
      • Is it planted and grown in a regenerative growth cycle?
      • Does it need high levels of petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides?
    • Carbon footprint
    • Reliance on petroleum-based products?
      • (i.e., polyvinyl acetate, ethylene glycol)
  • What is it designed for functionally?
    • I.e., thin-film plastics, rigid plastics, agricultural applications, interaction with water, etc.
  • Does it behave in the same way as a traditional (petrol-based) plastic, or are there functional drawbacks?
    • I.e., shelf life, moisture barriers?
  • What is the formulation of the polymer?
    • New: A unique formulation that does not try to mimic a traditional petroleum-based plastic.
    • Drop-in: Identical on a molecular level to a fossil-fuel based plastic.
  • What would make this a better option than recycled plastics?
  • What is its intended end of life/waste stream defined by the manufacturer or distributor?
  • How accessible to the average consumer is this intended end-of-life waste stream?
  • Does this waste stream have the capacity to accept and treat this material at mainstream/high volumes? Does the relevant waste industry want this material?
  • Does the technology to effectively treat this material exist widespread?
    • (i.e. filtration to capture microplastics or vinyl acetate in wastewater)
  • Does the material have the potential to create marine pollution (ocean plastics) or disintegrate into microplastics?
  • Is this material circular/closed loop by nature or linear by nature?
    • “Circular” meaning, could it be recirculated through recycling or existing systems to be made back into itself, thus closing the loop?

An Ideal Bioplastic

We recognize that there is no bioplastic currently on the market that meets our vision for circularity and our standards for sustainable input materials. So, what would our ideal eCommerce bioplastic be?

Below are the things we look for when it comes to bioplastics. With this framework in mind, as of today, we find that recycled content is still very much superior to any bioplastic material available. However, as EcoEnclose explores use cases where composting is preferred (i.e., food/organics) or where the strength of a virgin plastic polymer is genuinely required, we may find ourselves turning to bioplastic solutions that meet the below framework.

  • Sourced from regenerative crops or bio feedstocks such as algae and agricultural residue.
  • Harvested without risk of endangering important ecosystems or placing pressure on these environments to support a higher and higher growth capacity.
  • Carbon neutral or negative. At the very least, it does not require more carbon input than recycled plastic would.
  • Meets the needs of eCommerce packaging. Compared to recycled plastic, it does not meaningfully sacrifice shelf-life, strength (tensile), and a range of applications and functions in a way that could lead to excess product damage.
  • Able to be readily recycled in existing & accessible streams. Curbside recyclable is preferred.
  • Able to be closed-loop by design - the ability to be recycled back into itself.
  • Any bioplastic solution designed to dissolve in water should be non-toxic in aquatic environments.