Introduction to Bioplastics

By Kristyn Jones, Account Executive

Bioplastics and how to use them in manufacturing has become an increasingly popular topic in sustainability. So what is a bioplastic? By the end of this post you should have a good understanding of bioplastics and related terminology.

Before we begin, here are a few key terms and their meanings:

  • BIOPLASTIC: A bioplastic is a plastic that is either biodegradable, bio-based, or both.
  • BIODEGRADABLE: Biodegradation is a chemical process where a substance or object is able to decompose when in the right conditions with the presence of microorganisms, bacteria and/or fungi. In these conditions, the item will break down to its original components and blend back in with the environment.
  • BIO-BASED: A product or material is ‘bio-based’ if it is made partially from plants.
  • BIOPOLYMER: Biopolymers are plastics made from plants. Examples include bio polyethylene, a polymer made from plants that is chemically identical to the one made from crude oil. Other examples includes PLA, PHA, and PBS; these are derived from plants but are chemically unique.
  • RENEWABLE FEEDSTOCK: Renewable feedstocks are organic materials that can be blended with polymers. Renewable feedstocks act as substitutes for petroleum-based feedstocks.
  • BIOCOMPOSITE: A biocomposite is a polymer matrix that has renewable feedstocks like starch, wood composite, agave or barley blended in to divert out petroleum based feedstocks. Biocomposites have great end of life options and are still fully recyclable via curbside recycling.

Bioplastics are an important part of a sustainable future as they are derived from renewable resources and/or are biodegradable. They reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastic production, and can be carbon neutral or carbon negative.

As part of Insight’s sustainability initiative, our R&D team is working on qualifying a series of bioplastics for children’s products and direct food contact. More specifically, we are testing a domestically-made biocomposite using a starch feedstock. This biocomposite is able to replace up to 65 percent of the petroleum-based feedstock that goes into traditional plastics.

For a typical 1MM piece premium order for one of our CPG partners, we would use about 8 metric tons of LDPE. If we are able to use a biocomposite, we will divert 5.2 metric tons of petroleum feedstock out of the program. This has a huge impact on our planet, and is one reason why we want to expand our bioplastic offerings for our clients. These biocomposites are also fully recyclable via curbside recycling programs.

Our QA team is pursuing a 4-stage qualification process:

  • PHASE 1: Chemical Testing
    This phase of testing qualifies our bioplastic to be safe for consumer products and for children ages 3 & up. Phthalates testing, BPA, heavy metals, and California Prop 65 were all included and passed in this phase.
  • PHASE 2: Mechanicals Testing
    This phase of testing qualifies our bioplastic to be safe for children of all ages. Here we will test the performance of the bioplastic for torque, tension, bite, and other mechanicals to make sure that no small parts are released (among other tests).
  • PHASE 3: Direct Food Contact Testing
    This phase of testing qualifies our bioplastic to be safe for direct food contact. Many of our CPG partners have food products, and many of our premiums are consumption tools.
  • PHASE 4: Sensory/Odor Testing
    This phase of testing qualifies our bioplastic as an in-pack premium with food products. This is offered on a case by case basis in alignment with our individual partner’s preferences.

Stay tuned for more information about our sustainability initiative and work with bioplastics!