The potential of bioplastic

That’s the topic we’ve caught in the Made in Britain Twitter net: 21 July 2021. Photo: LEGO/European Bioplastics

EVERY Thursday at 1pm Made in Britain hosts #MadeinBritainHour on Twitter. During that hour Made in Britain asks questions of its 21,000 followers and the results are fascinating. Previously this information was enjoyed by the audience at the time and then left to drift away in the Twittersphere, rarely read again. So, we have decided to capture some of the best comments and re-present them for a new audience and easy reference. Some of the responses have been edited but most have been left in their casual Twitter style.

This week we discuss the potential of bioplastic.

Question one: Are bioplastics a realistic solution to some of the issues relating to single-use plastics?

Response: It's hard to say considering that bioplastics currently make up approx 0.2% of the global polymer market. Research continues but, until there is a larger sample available, it's hard to say whether bioplastics can replace or outperform single-use plastics

Made in Britain: what do you think the early indications are? and more importantly how environmentally friendly are bioplastics?

Response: In terms of CO2 emissions, bioplastics are a lot greener to produce than traditional plastics. Nevertheless, some by-products of the manufacturing process can and do cause damage to the environment, such as nitrates and phosphates that end up contaminating water sources.

Made in Britain: The ones based from crops can cause this too, pesticides, fertilisers can create other environmental challenges. It does seem the bioplastics have a little halo at the moment but that may not be earned

Response: From a novice point of view it seems there is a lot more development needed. It's been interesting to see what Lego have been doing with their polymers. Their attempts weren't suitable initially for bricks, only decorative items such as trees. Depends on the context/use?

Made in Britain: Hence the question about replacing "single use plastic" - Lego have joined the move towards "bioplastics" but for more permanent use. There is also some question about what a bioplastic actually is

Response: I think the market needs to also be educated about the differences.

Response: And schools so we can educate students too

Response: I used biopol carrier bags in Malaysia for a few years... As a consumer they were fine...

Response: Is making parts from bio plastics Greenwashing? Avoiding the use of petrochemicals may reduce the carbon footprint but will it just cause another issue?

Made in Britain: That's why it is so important for us all to understand clearly the life-cycle of a bioplastic. I'm not sure many people do

Response: Few people understand the life cycle of most things. Supply chains from earth to shop often show that "Eco" is not so eco

Response: It depends because not all bioplastics are biodegradable and I think a lot of confusion does stem around this Bio-based and biodegradable are not one and the same i.e. PE, PET, PA and PTT are bioplastics but are non biodegradable. It's also from my understanding that we don't have adequate facilities to compost or recycles these new plastics Some bio-based products can take up to 6 months to compost under specific conditions

Response: I read mixed messages re biodegradation also... Some saying its potentially worse as the material still exists, albeit on a microscopic level? True?

Response: You're right Ryan, some of the bio-based products are chemically different from conventional plastics, and if any of this does end up in existing recycling facilities it can indeed become a pollutant

Response: Similarly to all other forms of plastic recycling - the UK lacks a lot of the right facilities or simply doesn't have enough to match our consumption.

Response: Again, highlighting the need for support from power higher up (i.e. Government) to support the manufacturing industry and invest in more recycling facilities to support Plastic manufacturers!

Made in Britain: We're going to discuss biodegradable a little later for that very reason, it is confusing. Same as compostable. What does bio-based mean? 100% bio?

Response: From research it can mean one or both; 1. a plastic that is bio-based (partially/entirely made from biomass rather than petrochemicals) 2. a plastic that is biodegradable (can be broken down by enzymes) But as mentioned, it may not be the panacea we might be led to believe

Response: That's a huge question - definitely not all issues, but there are some, i.e. use of petrochemicals, that bioplastics can help to overcome

Response: They aren't the only solution. Issues relating to single use plastics - more education is needed on recycling and how to reuse plastics. Designing plastic products to be reusable.

Made in Britain: Reducing the usage is a start. They've stopped plastic drinking straws but the plastic top of your drink that you poke the straw through is.......plastic? 

Response: Its the disposal of these straws thats the problem - people littering rather than disposing of the responsibly

Response: Everyone's got to do their bit. We've got metal straws and paper bags for the kids lunches. But the real problem is not domestic use, it's commercial. Did I see somewhere about discarded fishing nets being the biggest issue?

Response: One of the problems is that consumers jump on an issue that they/we are not informed in and then a few large companies make a token effort (to look good and get the 'votes/sales') which the masses think is the answer... it helps for sure but is not the way to go about it.

Response: I have a large collection of nets picked up on the beach after storms. I also have a wide collection of ropes that have been "Lost at Sea". I still prefer the natural fibre ropes and nets of days gone by.

Response: The amount of abandoned fishing gear I see on my journeys is ridiculous too! Caught up in the supports of piers I often find them

Response: I heard (can't remember where), that fishermen were actually throwing damaged nets overboard rather than hauling them in and repairing them....

Response: Cheaper to claim the insurance and buy new. This negates the need to repair nets. A pastime of many from years ago and watched by endless tourists on holiday at seaside locations. The old cotton nets were expensive so they were repaired and lasted many years. 

Made in Britain: That used to be the everyday scene at the harbours at seaside resorts. I remember seeing them regularly doing it in Scarborough

Response: I have been doing net repairs and rope splicing all my life. Picked up the skills when I was in my early teens. Still have all the kit.

Response: The first Bioplastic was discovered in 1926, the concept for biodegradable plastics was considered in 1980's. What are the consequences of introducing such? The biodegradable food waste bags all seem to break

Response: Agree with what @barkstonplastic has 'said' as a lot more R&D needs to be done before any real comparisons can be made. We are seeing a lot of wild claims and 'greenwashing' being put out by some unscrupulous organisations/companies

Made in Britain: Is this a battle to be first to mass market?

Response: Sustainability, environmental awareness, reduction of your carbon footprint etc. have all become USPs for certain types of businesses to attract a more conscious type of consumer.

Made in Britain: There is also the issue of what happens after they have sold the product - companies creating their own recycling schemes. Wasn't there a coffee pod recycling scheme for Tassimo? Does that help them sell more? or help them meet sustainability targets

Response: Probably both, although to be fair it probably helps their sales more. As can be seen with many things, from a consumer point of view, trying to 'go green' is often more costly and not everyone can afford to take that stance. Industry needs to make more of a stand.

Response: And for that R&D to take place, we need more direct investment from the government!

Response: What would be their motivation to invest?

Response: On one level, it will help them hit their environmental targets in the coming years. Additionally, as we become more environmentally conscious, issues like this will help sway people's votes in elections

Response: Unfortunately, this isn't a topic I know a great deal about professionally. There isn't much call for #bioplastics in the #Security industry. From a consumer POV, the sooner 'plastics' issue is solved the better. But that will only come with education

Response: We would say potentially yes but there was a point raised earlier by @Addmaster about designing products with plastic that are reusable & that will have an impact too. Perhaps the solution isn’t to eradicate plastic completely but to be smarter with how it is used 

Response: Bioplastics are used to replace single use plastic and they are biodegradable. In print there has been a change from wrapping magazines in film to a paper made with sugar cane that is compostable. The question is how many users understand the difference 

Response: Some of them are. Many are more harmful than what they seek to address.

Question two: Does a viable infrastructure need to be put in place to bring bioplastics into a fully circular existence? e.g. industrial composting, recycling/collection schemes?

Response: I am also long would it take to implement and what would be the impact in the meantime?

Response: A viable infrastructure would be vital to guarantee a circular product, but it shouldn't come at the cost of Reducing and Reusing. Just because it's circular doesn't mean it is without impacts

Response: The big drawback to plastics has always been a lack of recycling facilities. We need to the government to invest in more modern and sustainable facilities across the UK

Response: If there was enough money in it the private sector would have taken it up. Infrastructure is the only way to make recycling work, it is slowly developing. Variations of plastics makes recycling difficult. Development of power stations that burn would work.

Response: Auto sorting different plastics will be challenging. Not even sure AI would help?

Response: Perhaps the easiest solution would be to sort via colour - as this is done now in some cases. For instance, black plastic cannot be recycled.

Response: Made from Jazz and coloured black to indicate its poor recyclability. Hence my suggestion to burn it for heat and power. Invest in cleaning the output.

Response: Absolutely and this is definitely a barrier 

Response: Modern, sustainable and also easy to use. How easy is it to sort bioplastic from other?

Made in Britain: Some countries have done this for compostable bioplastics - these need to be separate from normal plastic recycling. I'm not sure the UK is anywhere close to that yet?

Response: I believe they are more costly to run too and as the UK gov outsources much of its waste management/removal services to other for-profit businesses, it’s not hard to see why we haven’t made as big advances as other countries

Response: You also have the issue of trying to ensure that MRFs can tell the difference between compostable plastics and recyclable plastics, in case a compostable ends up in the wrong place.

Made in Britain: and at the MRF efficiencies and time are major factors too?

Response: For a truly #circulareconomy yes. But what does that look like from a practical point of view. Especially if decomposing is years....

Response: I love the comment I read at the weekend - "Wood is biodegradable, it just takes decades"

Response: It's the decomposing wood in the thawing permafrost that is causing us issues now.... millions of years later....

Response: Spent Nuclear power rods are recyclable, it just takes millennia! I know it is being a little facetious but we have to think of the long term consequences of our actions. Plastics are not the problem attitudes are. 

Response: There's a shade of "guns don't kill people, people kill people" in that reply. 

Response: Misuse of plastic is the issue. People/ companies don't taking responsibility is the issue.. But that can be applied to sooo many issues

Response: Luke, there that word again... people. It is about education and long term critical thinking.

Response: A viable infrastructure needs to be implemented for a proper circular economy for sure, but not just for bioplastics, for all plastics and all recycling moving forwards.

Response: Not all bioplastics are good alternatives to, or indeed better-than 'plastic' ... the whole subject needs a viable infrastructure and common understanding developing. Something that is 'compostable' but over many years ... isn't helpful for example.

Response: A lot can be recycled but we do not have the infrastructure in place for it. We, as a country, used to send our recycling to the far east at some point in the past. We need to take responsibility for our own recycling and take action. Attitudes, excuses, laziness will not look after our environment. We need to take charge of it. It’s everyone’s environment and we should all care for it. We need to get our Youngsters involved in this the sooner the better

Response: Attitudes, excuses, laziness will not look after our environment. We need to take charge of it. It’s everyone’s environment and we should all care for it. We need to get our Youngsters involved in this the sooner the better

Made in Britain: we also need some clear education as to what is good, what is bad and a good understanding of the terminologies.

Question three: How well understood are the terms compostable and biodegradable by consumers? 

Response: Haven't seen that surveyed but I am sure there are many interpretations by consumers!

Response: They are being taught in schools which is good...

Response: what about the buying public...

Made in Britain: It's not quite as simple as it sounds though? Compostable actually means different things. Home compostable vs industrial compostable. Very different

Response: The terms are so wide-ranging we're not even sure of them 100% of the time! Even when packaging carries a recyclable logo, this is not necessarily true as only a certain percentage of the packet has to be recyclable.

Made in Britain: It's a minefield. recyclable, compostable, biodegradable but not compostable.....

Response: To be fair, it's not 'well understood' by manufacturers so the consumer is in good company

Response: Had it not been for my best friend, Google, I wouldn't have known personally! Anyone else the same or was it just me? 

Response: That's why I am asking questions and following today!

Response: I don't think they are well understood at all - most people think the two can be used interchangeably - we definitely need to drive more consumer awareness on this. Compostable = will break down in certain time frame and conditions - biodegradable = will break down 'eventually'.

Made in Britain: Compostable can mean within 12 weeks BUT only under certain conditions. This is where an infrastructure needs to be built to collect and industrial compost it - I believe Taiwan has this

Response: There are just a handful of places in the UK that offer this as far as I'm aware.

Made in Britain: I think I read it was no more than 50, but it could be a lot less than that. even if it was 50, that's one for every 1.2 million people.......

Response: I don't think that they're well understood at all as there are so many grey areas and the terms are used to cover a multitude of different things, we even get lost ourselves sometimes...!? Some companies are very '..clever..' with their use of packaging and what they claim.

Made in Britain: I'd fully agree with that about companies being clever. Mailing packaging is a great one to look and learn from.....

Response: We've even seen fake paper/cardboard packaging for take away food, off white and textured that had an embossed logo on the bottom for a 'green' company in the centre that then had a PET logo very subtly hidden, small in the corner that majority of people wouldn't notice.

Response: Sandwich packets are a nightmare too... Cellophane, cardboard, and other materials are all in one small packet.

Made in Britain: How do they recycle it? manually split it or is that 'too expensive' so it doesn't..

Response: They expect the consumer to deconstruct the packet and put the appropriate components in their separate recycling bins, but I doubt this ever happens - especially since nowhere does it say you have to do this on the packet...

Made in Britain: More so when you consider that people buy the sandwiches as "convenience food" and then have the "inconvenience" of taking the package to bits. Wonder what does happen to them? landfill/burned?

Response: There’s not much hope currently for the average consumer if there’s confusion within our manufacturing industry already!!! I definitely think education is crucial to this but that needs to come from investment by the G’ment and the infrastructure has to be in place first 

Made in Britain: Some maybe currently using this confusion to sell "green" products?

Response: Yes, very much so

Response: Unfortunately it is very confusing, there is also the term recyclable being used a lot. Compostable vs biodegradable most definitely a mine field and what goes where when you are sorting through at home !

Question four: What are the barriers to a wider uptake of bioplastics?

Response: Pretty much all that has been mentioned already…. Awareness, confusion, infrastructure, education, investment. Wow, the list is endless. Cost is also a massive implication and risk of contamination. These are two “biggies” we have seen directly from our clients 

Response: Agreed

Made in Britain: We have only briefly touched upon contamination here - that is a real biggy and can have completely the opposite effect to what was aimed

Response: Absolutely. Many injection moulders we work with won’t risk the potential damage contaminated material might cause to their press.

Response: We have a client recently who desperately wished to manufacture their product with recycled plastic. We did our best to source this for them but on receiving the costings they couldn’t make it pay so have decided to use….. virgin plastic! It’s a harsh reality.

Response: Better education through companies PR. The vehicle for distributing the message is TV and the MSM. Unfortunatly these are not the stories they want to publish. Protest groups are more interested in creating disharmony than promoting knowledge

Made in Britain: better education and clearer labelling will all help. Who drives it though?

Response: I have another question, Upon a random discussion with my missus' family, a question was asked, "if plastic can be recycled, why is packaging in shops not all recyclable?"

Response: @MadeinBritainGB #members check out the MythBusting about Plastics webinar… #madeinbritainhour Really interesting webinar

Response: Laziness can also be an issue. We as customers, a lot of the time, 'can't be bothered' or are 'too busy', we want an easy life. So until they become mainstream (after lots of investment) and we're educated properly in plastics then it will be a very big uphill battle.

We tend not to edit the contributor's Twitter-speak text so if anybody would like to understand this better, email and I will try to get a clearer explanation.

Join Made in Britain on Twitter at 1pm every Thursday for #MadeinBritainHour. We engage with everybody, members and non-members alike (some of whom become members as a result). Hopefully, see you there.

This page has links to all the previous Twitter conversations we have 'caught in the net': CLICK HERE.

By Made in Britain 6 months ago | Made in Britain news

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