Bioplastics and circular economy

Bioplastics are taking an important spot in our societies, and the industry knows it and wants to be part of it

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Plastic plays a key role in the transition to a greener society in developed countries, as well as a potential to prevent further pollution in developing countries. However, plastic poses several environmental problems, such as emissions in its production, waste management, garbage and leakage into nature, and low recycling rates. Those are some of the main reasons to consider the development and use of bioplastics. Simply put, these "plastics" can be biodegraded, and produced from biomass, or both, as a potential solution to reduce dependence on fossil resources and the environmental impacts of plastic waste. There are serious reviews including industry standards and life cycle assessment studies, and discussions about some of the current challenges associated with these materials.

Developed countries are already moving towards new public policies related to new technologies and consumption habits around plastics. "[Transform] the European Union into a fair and prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy where there are no net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and where economic growth is decoupled from resource use", this is outlined in the European Commission's European Green Deal plan to address environmental challenges towards 2050 [1].

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) highlights the importance of working towards a sustainable economy, with efficient use of natural resources, little or no waste and pollution [2]. Some of the challenges related to plastic production are (mis)use and pollution, ranging from single-use items, overpackaging and litter, to microplastics, high carbon footprints and lack of proper labelling.

A circular economy is a way of producing and consuming that aims to keep resources in use for as long as possible and recycle them at the end of their useful life, thus reducing waste. This approach contrasts with conventional economics, the linear economy, where resources are extracted, turned into products, used and thrown away as waste. The Circular Economy approach is designed considering the adaptation in the manufacture and design of products, as well as the development of waste management towards a differentiated recovery of resources. This involves active social participation, which has been the most difficult part due to the scale and economic constraints within proper waste management. The best waste is the one that doesn't exist, however, a more realistic approach should be considered. Bioplastics are a promising alternative as a catalyst to achieve the goal of maintaining versatile products and reducing the environmental footprint.

Bioplastic is a term that is sometimes used interchangeably with biodegradable, but this is not accurate. Bioplastics are polymers that satisfy one or both of these criteria: the polymer is bio-based, the polymer is biodegradable. Bio-based means that the polymer comes wholly or partially from biomass, which is any renewable organic material or organic waste of biological origin. Biodegradable means that the material can be broken down into natural substances such as carbon dioxide, water and biomass, with the help of microorganisms. Check out this link to learn more about bioplastics.

The following list of some bioplastics, indicating their origin and biodegradability [3].


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More precisely, biodegradable plastic is a polymeric material that meets certain official standards of biodegradability, where a certain degree of degradation must be scientifically verified within a defined time frame and under specific conditions. In the same way a compostable is a plastic that biodegrades in industrial composting facilities and must follow certain government or industry standards.


Certification labels relating to biodegradability and compostability: a) European Bioplastics seedling logo, indicates that the product is industrially compostable and complies with EN 13432; b) DIN CERTCO labels for industrial companies Compostability, (Other labels of this organization include: Biodegradability in soil and home Compostability); c) TÜV Austria labels for industry Compostability (Other labels of this organization include: Marine Biodegradability, Home Compostability, Soil Biodegradability and Freshwater Biodegradability); d) BPI (Biodegradable Products) Institute) is a label used in the United States when a plastic product passed ASTM D6400 certification; and e) is the label granted by the authorities of Mexico City when a product has been certified by third-party organizations with the Mexican regulation NMX-273-NYCE-2019, or ASTM D6400 (US) or EN 13432 (EU) [3].

The European Bioplastics website reports that global production of bioplastics in 2018 was about 2 Mt, while global production of plastics was about 360 Mt [4]. In addition, the global bioplastics market is expected to grow steadily over the next five years, with a volume increase of around 40%. The Markets And Markets report on the bioplastics and biopolymers market [5], estimated that the global market size for bioplastics and biopolymers is around USD 11.5 billion in 2022, with a projection towards 2027 of around USD 27.3 billion, at a CAGR of 18.9%. These figures consider societal changes regarding the consequences of plastics on the environment, industrial potential, waste management regulations, favorable government policies, human health concerns, energy costs, and carbon footprint, among others.


  1. European Commission. the European Green Deal COM(2019) 640 final; European Commission: Brussels, Belgium, 2019
  2. United Nations Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Available online: (accessed April 5, 2021).
  3. Di Bartolo, A.; Infurna, G.; Dintcheva, N.T. A review of bioplastics and their adoption in the circular economy. Polymers 2021, 13, 1229. polym13081229
  4. European bioplastics. Bioplastics market. Available online:
  5. Market and Market Report on Bioplastics and Biopolymers Market