Plastics can be made of fossil and renewable raw materials.
The desire to reduce dependence on fossil materials, changes in the conventional forestry industry and the general shift towards the bioeconomy have pushed the plastic sector to seek alternative ways of procuring and producing raw materials, which has given rise to new, innovative techniques.
Plastic production is based on the use of chemical processes to create polymers consisting of long chains of monomers. Polymers can also be made from naturally occurring monomers, such as lactose, glucose, fatty acids and glycerine. This means that plastic can be manufactured using cereals, sugar, starches, cellulose or fats and oils.
The manufacturing of bio-based plastics has increased steadily ever since their invention. However, the final breakthrough is yet to happen. Bioplastics account for 0.4% of the global plastic production, translating into 1.1 million tonnes a year. Of these, 58% is bio-based plastics and the remaining 42% is biodegradable plastics. The manufacturing of bioplastics is an efficient process and currently only 0.1% of the farming land in the world is used for plastic production.
Bioplastics come into their own in applications in which biodegradability or suitability for composting provides the product with clear added value. The use of bio-based materials is beneficial as long as the raw materials can be produced efficiently, without unnecessary environmental burdens. Bio-based plastics can be recycled similarly to plastics made from fossil materials, and biodegradable plastics can be utilised in biogas plants or industrial composting facilities, which offer the right conditions for biodegradation.
Bioplastics and their raw materials are being developed continuously. Bioplastics can be used to replace conventional plastics in an increasing number of applications. New methods of producing raw materials are also being developed. Bioreactors represent cutting-edge technology in plastic production. In this technique, biosynthesis is used to generate biomass from algae for use as a raw material for plastics. This method is particularly promising because it does not take up farming land.