The renaissance of bioplastics: A not-so-natural process
By Igor Catic

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In 2011, the world production of bioplastics was less than 0.5 percent of total plastics production. But when you read news articles, you get a somewhat strange impression that the most important materials now and in the future are eco-friendly bioplastics. Bioplastics are not a new invention. The celluloid eco-baby doll is about 150 years old. In fact, the first bioplastic — based on casein — is more than 500 years old.

Do too many members of media consider bioplastics as "green"?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

Thus, bioplastics as a material existed long before the plastics made from nature — crude oil and natural gas, or sometimes coal — usually called synthetic or petro-plastics.

What is the difference between synthetic plastics and bioplastics? Just the input into the process. The inputs for fossil fuel plastics are pure products of nature. On the contrary, inputs from the so-called renewable sources are not natural ones. They do not exist in nature, and they are the result of human knowledge and will. Planting is an agricultural activity that demands working forces, energy (mostly fossil fuels) and a lot of chemical products, such as herbicides and pesticides. These are all artificial products.

We must greet the renaissance of bioplastics. However, they are fully man-made materials rather than natural ones. Thus, we must stop greenwashing bioplastics as natural materials, as suggested by European Bioplastics in the September article No Greeenwashing with Bioplastics.

Igor Catic is a professor at the University of Zagreb in Croatia. Catic is a member of the Society of Plastics Engineers and a recipient of the SPE International Education Award in 1998 — the only one outside North America.