To fulfill the many expectations placed upon polymers and plastics to remain competitive and acceptable compared to other materials, they must constantly improve in their functional properties and their cost/benefit ratio. More recently it has also become imperative that the environmental burdens caused by polymers and plastics be reduced and that overall sustainability of these materials be raised. Today the environmental aspect of a material are one of the key factors for assessing its acceptability and for making decisions about its use.
Thus there is now a greater emphasis on evaluating the environmental impacts of polymers and plastics. Using the life cycle assessment method polymers and plastics are being compared to each other and to other materials. The environmental emphasis has also prompted active development of new, or in some cases reengineered, biobased and biodegradable polymers and plastics. During the last decade these materials have moved from research laboratories into commercial production and represents one of the fastest growing niche segments in plastics, although the overall quantity still remains relatively low.
Now that bioplastics have been successfully launched and real-life experiences from early applications have been obtained, their sustainability is undergoing a thorough examination. The results show that these new biomaterials cause environmental burdens similar to those caused by conventional plastics. In general, bioplastics offer reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases and the use of fossil resources, whereas the production of bioresources from farming contributes to higher acidification and eutrophication burdens. End-of-life waste management can also strongly influence the overall results. It is expected that future developments in technology and organization and the use of second generation bioresources will improve the environmental profile of bioplastics. Bioplastics can contribute to reaching policy goals e.g., regarding the reduction of greenhouse gases but they must be used properly to achieve the desired sustainability benefits.
Keywords: Biobased, Biocompatible bioplastics, Biodegradable, Bioeconomy, Biomass, Bioplastics, Bioresources, Ecobalance, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Plastics, Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), Polymers, Standardization, Sustainability.