Plant-Based Plastics Gain Favor as Companies Pursue Sustainability Goals

The future is extra plastic. Plant-based plastic, that’s.

Plant-based plastics, or bioplastics, have accounted for simply 1% of the world’s plastic manufacturing for nicely over a decade, in line with a evaluate of greater than 100 corporations by analysis group nova-Institute. Bioplastics haven’t taken off largely as a result of they’re usually 50% to 80% costlier than conventional fossil-fuel-based plastics, however their manufacturing is now rising 14% a yr, placing them on monitor to achieve as much as 3% of the plastics market within the subsequent 5 years. 

Bioplastics are increasing quicker than recycled plastic in some instances, resembling in Asian nations like China and Japan which can be mandating extra ecologically pleasant supplies, nova-Institute founder

Michael Carus

stated. Even if international plastic recycling charges sometime attain 70% in contrast with round 9% at the moment, bioplastics alongside supplies produced from captured carbon dioxide could have an enormous function to play as the world transitions away from fossil-fuel-based supplies, he stated.

“Not one of them can do it alone,” Carus stated, referring to the sustainable supplies that may drive the inexperienced transition.  

Bioplastics’ advantages

Bioplastics are often derived from vegetation wealthy in starch, sugar or pulp, resembling corn, wheat, sugar cane, wooden and cotton, which makes them costlier than plastics produced from fossil fuels as a result of crops want fertilizer and different sources resembling water. However, the environmental advantages of plant-based plastics are more and more interesting to corporations promising to make use of extra sustainable supplies by the tip of the last decade. 

Plants take up the environment’s carbon dioxide, which cuts the greenhouse-gas emissions from making bioplastics to a minimum of half that of fossil-fuel-based plastics. Bioplastics can even typically trigger much less air pollution after they degrade within the atmosphere. 

Broadly, there are two sorts of bioplastics: Materials which have related efficiency to plastic, resembling pulp-derived cellulose acetate present in eyeglasses and textiles, and bioplastics which can be chemically similar to traditional plastics, resembling a polyethylene, polyester and nylon. Around half of at the moment’s bioplastics are biodegradable, in line with nova-Institute, that means they break down extra naturally and are much less dangerous to habitats. Still, many of those bioplastics require industrial composting services to degrade and aren’t designed to be thrown away in a house backyard. 

A Lululemon shirt containing plant-based nylon.


Lululemon Athletica Inc.

Some of the earliest adopters of bioplastics are vogue corporations, together with Lululemon, which has a purpose to interchange the vast majority of oil-based nylon with plant-based nylon by 2030. A giant promoting level for the sportswear firm is utilizing vegetation to make chemically similar nylon that may be simply switched in, however nonetheless cuts emissions by practically half.

The strongest demand for bioplastics is at the moment from vogue and food-packaging corporations, however curiosity can also be rising from corporations in cosmetics, electronics and extra sturdy items resembling instruments,

Eastman Chemical’s

Chief Technology Officer

Chris Killian


Eastman, previously a division of


earns greater than $1 billion of its $10 billion or so in yearly gross sales from bioplastics produced from cellulose acetate, a fabric it has produced for greater than 70 years. Cellulose acetate, which Eastman makes from cotton linters and wooden pulp, was first utilized in Kodak movie within the firm’s early days, however it’s now increasing into packaging, textiles and different functions. In 2022, Eastman signed an settlement with

Warby Parker

for the fabric for use in eyewear. 

“It has a great deal of legs,” he stated of the cellulose acetate-derived plastics. 

Challenges forward

Plant-based plastics stay a troublesome promote as a result of fossil-fuel-based plastics are less expensive, however costs may fall if corporations proceed to purchase extra bioplastics and governments encourage their use. This yr, the Biden administration referred to as on the federal authorities to evaluate the potential for biomaterials, together with for plastics, fuels and medicines. And final yr, the U.S. Defense Department stated it might make investments $1.2 billion in biomanufacturing. The European Union can also be contemplating mandating bioplastics below packaging guidelines which can be being mentioned.

In the U.S., there’s authorities help on the state and federal degree to transform organic uncooked supplies into fuels resembling ethanol, however that degree of help doesn’t but exist for plant-based plastics, stated

Manav Lahoti,

chemical big Dow’s international sustainability director, olefins, aromatics and alternate options. 

“The market is ready to take off on the demand side,” he stated. “But to make the economics work, there is some regulatory support that is required.”

Another hurdle to scaling up bioplastics is what occurs at their finish of life. Only plant-based plastics which can be chemically similar to fossil-fuelprimarily based variations can enter the prevailing and rising recycling infrastructure. The world’s restricted quantity of feedstock, which frequently goes to feeding cattle and different livestock, additionally presents challenges to utilizing extra bioplastics.

One reply: turning agricultural waste into recyclable plastics.

This yr, Dow struck an settlement with biomass refinery startup New Energy Blue to purchase bioethylene produced from the stalks and leaves of corn grown in Iowa. Dow will then make standard and recyclable plastics from the fabric and promote to corporations in transportation, footwear, and packaging. 

Dow is already offering bioplastics for


footwear and

LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s

fragrance packaging, and sees demand outstripping provide, stated

Haley Lowry,

Dow’s international sustainability director for packaging and specialty plastics.

“We are trying to find more sources,” she stated. “The demand from our customers is there; it’s really finding the sources of biofeed that makes sense.”

Write to Dieter Holger at

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