A useful alternative?

The topic of bio-plastics is becoming increasingly topical, but few people know what exactly these materials are all about. Here, a distinction is made between biobased and biodegradable plastics. But can bio-based products harm the environment? How do you dispose of them properly? Are they a sensible alternative?

What are bioplastics?

To date, there is no uniform definition, but a distinction is made between two properties of bioplastics: 1. biobased and 2. biodegradable.According to the German Federal Environment Agency, biobased products come partly or entirely from renewable raw materials, which can be biodegradable or non-biodegradable. Promotional products made from bio-based plastic are bamboo tableware and bio-buttons made from natural raw materials. You can find more examples in our store. According to DIN EN 13432, biodegradable means that a material decomposes (after a specified time and under ideal composting conditions) to more than 90% water, carbon dioxide (CO2) and biomass. Currently, the three most common degradable plastics are starch plastics, polylactide (PLA) and polyhydroxy fatty acids (PHF). The main basic components are cellulose and sugar, and above all starch, which is mainly obtained from corn, wheat and potatoes. Promotional items made of biodegradable plastic are fruit gum sachets, soap dishes, ballpoint pens, or drinking bottles made of sugar cane.


Promotional items made from compostable plastic are compostable. Compared to petroleum-based plastics, biodegradable plastics decompose much faster. Articles which are certified according to DIN 13432 pass through the decomposition process in an industrial composting plant within a maximum of 90 days. Compared to conventional plastics, this is a very short period of time and no toxic or inorganic residues remain.

Industrial composting

Nevertheless, bioplastics do not belong in organic waste. Industrial composting lines often operate with much shorter throughput cycles. Biowaste thus has only half the time to break down into its components; the fragments remain too large to be recycled. Since the quantity of compostable plastics is currently still too small and the energy required for the plants is too high, longer throughput times for single-variety bioplastics are currently neither ecologically nor economically sensible. For these reasons, it is advisable to dispose of bioplastics via the recycling (dual system / yellow bag or garbage can) or residual waste.

The issue

A compostable plastic bag is remarkable to the consumer and sounds particularly environmentally friendly. However, the basic assumption that biodegradable plastics are blanket more environmentally friendly than conventional plastics must be rejected. “It is true that the use of renewable raw materials can lead to a conservation of fossil resources and an improvement in the CO2 balance; however, advantages in one or two impact categories are usually not sufficient to justify a basic superiority. It may therefore be that the production of bioplastics is more energy-intensive and more harmful to the environment (acidification of the soil, high water consumption, climate pollution, etc.) than the production from primary materials. ) than production from primary raw materials. But this does not apply across the board either. In summary, it can be said that the ecological meaningfulness of an advertising article must be examined in each case in detail.

(Re)recycling bioplastics

Due to the still too small quantities of bioplastics disposed of, a separation by type and subsequent recycling of bioplastics is still economically uninteresting for disposal companies at the current time. In any case, the raw materials are not recycled, but pressed together with other residual waste into waste pellets, which then serve as fuel for industry, for example. When it comes to thermal recycling, promotional products made from plant-based raw materials have a clear advantage from an ecological point of view. This is because they reduce the amount of fossil greenhouse gases and emit only the amount of CO2 that the plant has absorbed from the atmosphere during the growth process. The most ecologically sensible recycling of bioplastics is therefore currently still thermal recycling.

The bottom line

Bioplastics can be a viable alternative, especially if they are produced from plant-based components. Provided that the raw materials used for this do not go to the detriment of the food chain. Biodegradable plastics can also be useful because of the reduction in emissions and conservation of fossil resources. However, a holistic view of the life cycle assessment is necessary over the entire product life cycle from the extraction of raw materials, manufacturing and transportation to recycling or disposal. In general, multiple use of products saves resources and protects the environment (see also reusable instead of disposable). Using recycled materials (secondary raw materials) to make new products is better than using new primary raw materials. However, the basic prerequisite for recycling is a high-quality primary plastic.
Biobased plastics are best when they come from sustainable forestry or agriculture and are preferably made from residual materials from the processing industry (e.g. fabric scraps from the textile industry, fruit peels and pits from food production)