Bioplastics Chronicles

Le Bioplastique, C’est Fantastique !

Bioplastics can be ‘bio’ in different ways: they can be biodegradable, made of biological materials or produced through fermentation.

Production of plastic exceeds 300 million tons and could double by 2030. Production capacity for bio-based plastics was around 2.1 million tons in 2018 less than 1% of the total market. Just under half of this amount is also biodegradable. It will hit 2.6 million tons by 2023.

Key drivers of bioplastics are governmental policy, regulations and incentives. Many governments support research and initiatives in bioplastics and provide funding to promote the use of more environmentally friendly plastics.

The future of bioplastics is mainly driven by regulations and the principle of environmental concern rather than a ‘real’ market need.

The requirements for biodegradable and biobased plastics are getting more and more stringent, which will drive the growth of bioplastics and the technology behind it.

A main challenge is to develop plastics that can degrade in the ocean. Finding microbes with exotic enzymes capable of degrading plastic. Programming microbes to degrade plastics using synbio techniques, or developing the relevant enzymes for degradation through protein engineering.

The star of biobased polymers is PLA, which has the potential to replace PET plastics in many applications.

The challenge of bioplastics is price.

Bioplastics can be used in value-added applications, such as medicine and medical devices and cosmetics.

0.8 million hectares of land were used to grow the crops needed to produce bioplastics, which is less than 0.02% of the amount of land used for growing crops worldwide.

The biorefinery concept is to develop microbial strains that can ‘eat’ green waste (like wood residues).

Some microbes naturally produce polymers that we can use as plastics. PHAs, for example, are produced by a number of microorganisms and can be used in food packaging and other disposable items like diapers.

Through strain and fermentation optimization, some companies have managed to produce PHAs from bacteria at an industrial scale.