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Nature’s Shiny Alternative to Plastic: But Is Bioplastic Actually Better?

discarded plastic cup on a green background

Synthetic and enduring, it’s no secret that single-use plastics are messing up our music industry and our planet. But what if there was a greener alternative? Hailed as nature’s answer to a plastic-free future, bioplastics are a family of materials leading the shift towards a fossil-free revolution.

As much as we’d love to tell you that bioplastics are the shiny answer to all our microparticle problems, when we delve deeper, things get a little more complicated. In this post, we’re sharing the latest facts to help you navigate the bioplastic hype…and make the important realisation that bioplastic DOES (but NOT ALWAYS!) mean better.

Not all bioplastics are made equal…

Compared to their oil-derived counterparts, bioplastics are, undoubtedly, a promising alternative. But despite the promise of ‘bio’ in the name, not all bioplastics are made equal.

Bioplastics’ is an umbrella term for a whole family of materials with different properties and applications. A material can be defined as a bioplastic if it’s biobased, or biodegradable, or features both properties…but, contrary to a lot of greenwash, bioplastic doesn’t always mean biodegradable. Take a look at this chart:

diagram showing conventional plastics versus bioplastics

You probably don’t need us to tell you that petroleum-based plastics are a problem…but what if we told you that “bio-”plastics can still be derived from fossil fuels? Take PBAT, a paradox of a material made from common petrochemicals…that is also biodegradable. Unexpected, right? Essentially, the selling point of bioplastics is their ability to break down readily in the environment, (alarm bells for microplastics, anyone?) not necessarily what they’re made from.

But even bioplastics will only break down given the right conditions (i.e. enough light, water and oxygen for microorganisms to thrive). Without proper disposal, bioplastics can persist in a similar way to conventional plastics…so, ‘bio’ doesn’t always mean better.

That said, bioplastics can be pretty cool…

If you’ve been following our progress for a while, you’ll know that in 2022 Bye Bye Plastic proudly pioneered the world’s FIRST EVER bioplastic ‘non-vinyl’ record, made from polyhydroxyalkanoates, aka PHA. Spearheaded by Evolution Music, this bacteria-derived material is driving a brand new sector for plastic-free innovation…and the special conditions required for the material to biodegrade mean your PHA record can safely spin for many decades to come 😎

What about PLA?

With just one letter difference, you’d be forgiven for mistaking PHA with PLA. But PHA’s similarly named predecessor is very different: while both materials stand on the more favourable end of our bioplastic umbrella, the production process for PLA (polylactic acid) requires intensive harvesting and processing of corn or other worthy feedstock which could be used to feed populations; while it ultimately results in a product that is less degradable than PHA.

Figuring out fact from fiction

From our petroleum plastic origins over a century ago, humans are only at the tipping point of a whole new bioplastics era. And they’re on the rise! According to market data, global bioplastics production capacities are set to increase from around 2.2 million tonnes in 2022 to approximately 6.3 million tonnes in 2027.

Sooo…a healthy dose of popular demand is needed to help the PHA magic take off for good! Something us Plastic Free Party-goers will be the first to support 🪩💃

Bioplastics alone might not help us wave away the plastic problem - but making sense of the terms definitely helps. Biobased, biodegradable, compostable - what’s the difference? Enter @swaythefuture to the rescue:

Wading through a sea of false claims is as exhausting as it is confusing, but official certifications from independent labs are here to help. Look for TÜV Austria or SGS as the most trust-worthy labels. Making it their job to examine the validity of materials, these organisations let us reclaim our power to make better conscious choices.

Ready to level up your eco-warrior status? Check out the “How to spot Greenwashing” and “How to Sort Plastic” guides in our Resource Hub for more info.


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