The material selection platform
Plastics & Elastomers
The material selection platform
Plastics & Elastomers
Various Types of Bioplastics

Bioplastics 101: Making the Right Biopolymer Choice

You must be aware that fossil fuel-based plastics can damage the environment. This has resulted in finding sustainable alternatives called bioplastics.

Recent market trends show a rise in bioplastic production over the next few years. This can be attributed to its superior properties over traditional plastics. Many commercial bioplastic grades are already in use, while some are under research.

Are you finding it difficult to pick the right grade for your application? Now it's time to equip yourself with the knowledge of various bioplastic types. This guide will also help you ease the selection process.

Sustainability Path #1 — Use Materials of Bio-based Origin


Bioplastics – Current Trends & Market Analysis

Bioplastics – Current Trends & Market Analysis

What are Bioplastics?

Bioplastics are a category of polymers that are derived from renewable biological sources. These could be plants, crops, or microorganisms. Traditional plastics are produced from fossil fuels like petroleum and natural gas.

Unlike traditional plastics, bioplastics provide a sustainable alternative. They utilize resources that can be replenished. According to European Bioplastics, a bioplastic can be either biobased, biodegradable, or both.

Top Image - Biobased

Biobased or bio-derived plastics

The term ‘biobased’ means that the material is (partially) derived from biomass (plants) or microorganisms. Renewable biomass include corn, sugarcane, potatoes, and tapioca.

Biodegradable Polymers

Biodegradable or compostable plastics

These plastics can break down into natural, non-toxic substances under specific environmental conditions. Biodegradation can occur through the action of microorganisms, heat, and moisture. It's important to note that not all bioplastics are inherently biodegradable. The chemical structure of a material influences biodegradation.

NOTE: 100% biobased plastics may be non-biodegradable and 100% petroleum-based plastics can biodegrade.

Anticipated growth in the coming years

Currently, bioplastics represent less than 1% of the more than 390 million tons of plastic produced annually. Global bioplastics production capacities are set to increase from 2.2 million tons in 2022 to approximately 6.3 million tons in 2027.  This is based on the latest market data,1 compiled by European Bioplastics in cooperation with the nova-Institute.

Currently, biodegradable plastics include PLA, PHA, starch blends, and others. They account for more than 51% (over 1.1 million tons) of the global bioplastics production capacities. The production of biodegradable plastics is expected to increase to over 3.5 million in 2027 due to the strong development of polymers, such as PLA and PHA1.

Biobased, non-biodegradable plastics make up more than 48% (almost 1.1 million tons) of the global bioplastics production capacities. These also include drop-in solutions like:

Their relative share is predicted to further decrease to about 44% in 2027. However, the production capacities for biobased polymers are going to increase over the next 5 years to more than 2.7 million tons. The production capacities for biobased PET stagnate. The main drivers for the growth are polypropylene, polyamide, and polyethylene1.

Global Production Capacities of Bioplastics (2022)Global Production Capacities of Bioplastics (2027)
Global Production Capacities of Bioplastics - 2022 (L); Global Production Capacities of Bioplastics - 2027 (R)
(Source: europeanbioplastics)1

Industries served by bioplastics

Bioplastics are used in an increasing number of markets. This ranges from packaging, catering products, consumer electronics, automotive, agriculture/horticulture, and toys to textiles and several other segments.

Biopolymers – Types and Applications

Biopolymers – Types and Applications

Bioplastic types based on the origin

Renewably sourced bioplastics

Polylactic Acid (PLA) — It is derived from renewable resources such as corn starch or sugarcane. PLA is biodegradable, compostable, and has similar mechanical properties to traditional plastics. It is widely used in packaging materials, disposable cutlery, textile fibers, and 3D printing. Check out the complete guide on PLA.

Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) — It is produced by various microorganisms through the fermentation of sugars. PHA is biodegradable and possesses a wide range of material properties. PHA is used in packaging, agricultural films, medical devices, and in the production of biodegradable plastics. Read the in-depth guide on PHA.

Polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) — It is produced by bacterial fermentation of glucose or starch. PHB is a fully biodegradable and bio-based plastic. Its mechanical properties are comparable to polypropylene. PHB is used in biodegradable plastic bags, containers, sustainable packaging, etc.

Polyethylene Furanoate (PEF) — It is derived from plant-based sources, such as sugar beets or corn. PEF has excellent barrier properties and is considered a sustainable alternative to PET. PEF is used in beverage bottles and food packaging to enhance shelf life and reduce the carbon footprint.

Sabic Biobased Resins

Biodegradable polyesters

Polybutylene Succinate (PBS) — It is produced from succinic acid. This can be derived from renewable resources. PBS is biodegradable and has good mechanical properties. Thus, it is used in applications like packaging films, agricultural mulch films, and disposable items.

Polybutyleneadipate-co-terephthalate (PBAT) — It is a biodegradable bioplastic having good toughness. It can be used for packaging film and agricultural mulch film applications.

Polycaprolactone (PCL) — It is a biodegradable synthetic polymer with a low melting point and good elongation. PCL is mainly used for biomedical applications such as drug delivery devices, sutures, or adhesion barriers.

Polytrimethylene Terephthalate (PTT) — It is derived from bio-based 1,3-propanediol. This can be produced from plant sugars. PTT exhibits good elasticity and resilience, making it suitable for textile applications.

Non-biodegradable bioplastics

Biobased Polyethylene — It is produced using renewable resources. Here, the sugars from renewable sources are converted into ethylene, the building block of polyethylene. Biobased PE shares similar properties with traditional fossil-fuel-based PE. This makes it a more sustainable alternative while maintaining versatility in various applications.

Biobased Polypropylene — It is manufactured using biobased propylene. This is derived from plant-based sources like sugarcane or other biomass. Biobased polypropylene exhibits similar properties to traditional polypropylene. This offers a balance between performance and environmental sustainability.

Biobased Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) — It is produced from renewable feedstocks like ethanol. This emanates from plant-based sources like sugarcane, corn starch, or other biomass. Biobased PVC demonstrates comparable durability, flexibility, and performance characteristics to conventional PVC. It is used in pipes, cables, floorings, medical devices, and packaging.

Biobased Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) — It is manufactured from monoethylene glycol (MEG), from plant-based sources like sugar cane. Biobased PET exhibits identical mechanical and chemical properties to traditional PET. It is a more sustainable alternative for various packaging like beverage bottles, food containers, etc.

Biobased Polyamide (PA) — It is synthesized from biobased monomers obtained from castor oil. Biobased PA offers similar strength, stability, and versatility as conventional PA. It is used in automotive parts, sports equipment, electronics, fibers for textiles, etc.

Envalior Webinar

Polysaccharide-based biopolymers

Starch Blends — These polymers are blended with other biodegradable polymers to enhance their properties. Starch blends can exhibit good mechanical properties and are biodegradable. They are used in packaging, disposable cutlery, and agricultural applications.

Cellulose — Cellulose-derived bioplastics are produced by modifying biomass-derived cellulose with acetic acid. It has been used in optical films, filtration membranes, eyeglass frames, and combs. For example, cellulose acetate.

➤ Alginate — Alginate is extracted from brown seaweed. It is biodegradable and biocompatible. It forms gel-like structures. Alginate is used in the food industry for encapsulation, wound dressings, and as a component in biodegradable films.

Other grades of bioplastics

Polyglycolic acid (PGA) — It can be synthesized from renewable resources-based glycolic acid. It has a use in implantable medical devices because of their biocompatible nature.

Polypropylene Carbonate (PPC) — It is produced through copolymerization of CO2 with one or more epoxides. They feature numerous benefits over traditional petroleum-based plastics. PPC can decompose into CO2 and water in many types of atmospheres and leave no residue. They are amorphous, clear, processable, and offer long-term mechanical stability.

Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) — It can be derived from renewable resources such as corn or sugarcane. PVA is water-soluble, biodegradable, and has good film-forming properties. It can be used in packaging films, adhesives, and as a component in biodegradable bags.

Sustainability Goals Come True with Bioplastics

Commercial biopolymer brands available in the industry

The commercially available biopolymers are adopted across various industries (refer to Table 1). With increasing research and development in the field of biopolymers, more sustainable alternatives are likely to emerge. This contributes to a greener and more environmentally friendly future.

Natural biopolymers from polypeptides and polysaccharides are used in packaging. They offer sustainability and biodegradability, especially paper-based packaging made of lignocellulose fibers. Another kind of natural packaging material is lipid-based film such as fatty acid and wax coating. Being hydrophobic they are used as water barrier films for food or as water-resistant coatings for plastics and paper-based packaging.

Polymer/Blends Brand Name  Supplier Application
PLA Ingeo NatureWorks Bottles, fibers, film, 3D printing, and packaging
Bio-PET Eastlon FKuR Transparent packaging and bottles
PHAs - Danimer Scientific Straws, cups, lids, bottles, produce bags, shopping bags, utensils, diaper linings, plates, wipes, toys, trash bags, seals, and labels
PBS BioPBS Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation Disposable tableware, paper cups, and gas barrier packaging
PBAT ecoflex® BASF Packaging, mulch film, paper coating
PCL - Nomisma Healthcare Pvt. Ltd. Biomedical application
PPC QPAC® Empower Materials Binder and plasticizer
PEF - Avantium Bottles, fibers and film
PLA/PBAT Bio-Flex® FKuR Consumer goods, packaging
PLA/PBAT Compostables Cereplast Packaging
PLA/PBAT ecovio® BASF Packaging
Starch/PBS Bionolle Resonac (formerly Showa Denko) Packaging
Starch/PBS Biograde Biograde Packaging
Starch/PBAT Terraloy Teknor Apex Consumer goods, packaging
Starch/PBAT Biolice Limagrain Packaging
Starch/PBAT Compostables Cereplast Packaging
Starch/PBAT/PCL Mater-Bi Novamont Consumer goods
PHA/PLA blend - Danimer Scientific Blow mold bottles
Table 1: Commercial-grade Bioplastics and Application Areas

Technical properties of biopolymers

The properties of biodegradable polymers can vary. This is because different polymers have different chemical structures. The below table depicts the summary of the mechanical properties of biodegradable polymers4.



Melting point

Tensile strength

Tensile modulus

Elongation at break


1.21 - 1.25

150 - 162

21 - 60

350 - 3500

2.5 - 6


1.18 - 1.26

168 - 182


3500 - 4000

5 - 8


1.23 - 1.25

144 - 172

20 - 25

500 - 1500

17.5 - 25


1.26 - 1.32

96 - 114

19 - 36

324 - 647

200 - 807


1.11 - 1.15

58 - 65

21 - 42

210 - 440

300 - 1000



110 - 115












213 - 235











0.1 - 1.16

161 - 170

30 - 40

1100 - 1600

20 - 400

Table 2: List of Mechanical Properties of Biodegradable Polymers4

Traditional petroleum-based plastics are struggling to meet the requirements for most instant foods. For example, coffee or fresh meat. Industrially, multi-layer films made of various polymers show an excellent oxygen or water vapor barrier like PET and PP. They are fabricated to obtain the films to be used for food such as instant coffee packaging.

For biodegradable polymers, the barrier performance is out of the range of an excellent oxygen or water vapor barrier. Combining different biodegradable polymers to form a multi-layer film will not meet food-packaging purposes. Thus, chemical/physical modifications or novel structural designs are required. View all biobased polymers with good barrier properties.

Requirements of barrier properties for different food packaging
Requirements of Barrier Properties for Different Food Packaging Applications and a Comparison Between Oxygen/Water Transition Rate of Selected Biodegradable Polymers at 25 μm and Food Packaging Barrier Requirements5

These values are approximate and can vary based on various factors. For example, the specific formulation, processing conditions, and the presence of additives. Additionally, some properties, such as the glass transition temperature, may have a range. This is because they can depend on the specific grade or formulation of the polymer. It is recommended to refer to the material datasheets provided by manufacturers for precise technical information.

EOL aspects of bioplastics

Today, the world is increasingly concerned about environmental impact. Hence, the choice of materials plays a pivotal role in shaping a sustainable future. One of the key considerations is how these materials handle their end-of-life scenarios. This means whether they biodegrade, compost, or can be recycled. Here's a general overview of these properties:

Biodegradability: The natural process of breakdown

  • Biodegradability refers to the ability of a material to naturally break down into harmless compounds. This can occur under the influence of microorganisms. This process is crucial for minimizing environmental impact and reducing waste accumulation.
  • Certain bioplastics, such as those based on PHA, are designed to be readily biodegradable. These materials can be broken down into natural components. This contributes to a cleaner and healthier environment.
  • Biodegradability can be influenced by factors like material composition, environmental conditions, and the availability of specific microorganisms. Some bioplastics may face challenges in degrading efficiently in certain environments.

Bioplastics - Biodegradable

Compostability: A natural form of transformation

  • Compostability refers to the ability of a material to undergo biological decomposition in a compost environment. This results in the production of compost. Compost is an organic matter rich in nutrients.
  • Certain bioplastics are compostable under industrial composting conditions. This includes specific formulations of PLA, PBS, and PBAT. They break down into nutrient-rich compost, contributing to soil health.
  • Industrial composting facilities provide optimal conditions. However, home composting of certain bioplastics may not be as effective. This is due to varying conditions (temperature) and the absence of specialized microorganisms.

Bioplastics - Compostable

Recyclability: Closing the loop

  • Recyclability is the ability of a material to be collected, processed, and reused in the production of new items. Efficient recycling is vital for creating a circular economy and reducing resource depletion.
  • The ease of recycling bioplastics is influenced by factors such as:
    • compatibility with existing recycling infrastructure,
    • material purity, and
    • availability of recycling facilities equipped to handle bioplastics
  • The recycling capabilities of bioplastics may vary. Some, like PLA, can be recycled through specific processes. However, challenges exist in traditional recycling facilities designed for conventional plastics.

Recycled Bioplastics

Why switch from traditional plastics to bioplastics?

Why switch from traditional plastics to bioplastics?

Attributes that render bioplastics superior to their conventional counterparts

i) Versatility: Bioplastics can be designed to exhibit a wide range of material properties. This in turn makes them suitable for various applications. It can be produced from a variety of feedstocks like agricultural waste. This offers flexibility and reduces competition with food crops.

ii) Reduce GHG: Bioplastics production results in lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than traditional plastics. This is especially true when derived from sustainable feedstocks. A 2017 study  determined that switching from traditional plastic to corn-based PLA would cut U.S. GHG emissions by 25%. It concluded that renewable resources for traditional plastics production reduce GHG emissions by 50 to 75%. However, bioplastics that might in the future be produced from renewable energy promise a substantial reduction in GHG emissions2.

iii) Environmental benefits: Thus, bioplastics offer a range of environmental benefits compared to traditional plastics including:
However, evaluation of the overall sustainability of bioplastics requires several considerations. These include specific applications, end-of-life scenarios, and regional variations in infrastructure.

iv) End-of-life options: The environmentally friendly nature of bioplastics aligns with the demand for sustainable and eco-friendly products. Bioplastics have lower toxicity during production and disposal, reducing environmental and health risks. Some variants are designed to be biodegradable or compostable under specific conditions. This reduces environmental impact at the end of their lifecycle. Bioplastic can support closed-loop systems with proper waste management and recycling infrastructure. This promotes a circular economy. Ongoing research and development lead to improvements in the properties and performance of bioplastics. This expands their range of applications.

Bioplastic Grades 1

Approaches to ensure a successful transition

Switching from traditional plastics to bioplastics requires the evaluation of various factors. This ensures a successful transition. Here's a comprehensive approach along with critical points to consider:

Lifecycle AssessmentLifecycle assessment (LCA)
A thorough LCA must be conducted to check the environmental impact of traditional and bioplastic options. Sever factors are considered. These include raw material extraction, manufacturing processes, transportation, product use, and end-of-life scenarios.

Application AnalysisApplication analysis
Specific applications where bioplastics can offer advantages over traditional plastics are identified. Factors involved are material properties, performance requirements, and end-user expectations.

Regulatory ComplianceRegulatory compliance
Compliance with local and international regulations governing the use of bioplastics is needed. It must be ensured that the chosen bioplastics meet relevant standards and certifications.

Supply Chain AssessmentSupply chain assessment
The availability and reliability of bioplastic feedstocks must be evaluated. Potential disruptions in the supply chain should be considered. Assessment of the resilience of the procurement strategy must be made. Learn to ensure the supply chain security of bioplastics.

Material CompatibilityMaterial compatibility
Compatibility of bioplastics is compared with existing manufacturing equipment and processes. Determining if modifications or new equipment is required for processing bioplastics is done.

Testing and ValidationTesting and validation
Extensive testing is conducted to validate the performance of bioplastics for specific applications. Mechanical properties, thermal stability, and any other relevant characteristics are considered.

Cost-benefit AnalysisCost-benefit analysis
A comprehensive cost-benefit analysis is performed. This gives a view of the economic implications of switching to bioplastics. The cost of raw materials, production processes, potential savings, or additional expenses are considered.

Consumer Perception and MarketingConsumer perception and marketing
Consumer perceptions of bioplastics should be understood. The switch must be communicated. The environmental benefits are highlighted and the consumers must be well-informed about the proper disposal or recycling methods.

Points to consider while selecting bioplastics

  1. Material properties
    Ensuring that the selected bioplastics meet the required material properties for specific applications. Factors like strength, flexibility, and thermal stability should be considered.

  2. End-of-life options
    End-of-life scenarios for bioplastics are evaluated. This includes composting, recycling, or biodegradation. Bioplastics that align with sustainability goals and are suitable for waste management infrastructure must be chosen.

  3. Compatibility with existing processes
    Bioplastics integration into the current manufacturing processes is assessed. Potential modifications needed in equipment or processes are considered.

  4. Certifications and standards
    The compliance of chosen bioplastics with industry standards and certifications is verified. This ensures product quality and regulatory compliance.

  5. Supply chain resilience
    The resilience of the bioplastic supply chain is considered. This includes the availability of feedstocks and the potential impacts of market fluctuations.

  6. Waste management infrastructure
    Waste management infrastructure in the regions where the products are sold is evaluated. Ensure that appropriate systems are in place for the disposal or recycling of bioplastics.

  7. Collaboration with suppliers
    Working closely with bioplastic suppliers is important. This enables to understand their processes, quality control measures, and commitment to sustainability. Establish transparent and reliable supplier relationships.

  8. Continuous improvement
    Staying updated on advancements in bioplastic technologies for continuous improvement. New formulations or materials must be adopted as they become available. They help to enhance performance and sustainability.


By opting for a systematic approach, companies can transition to bioplastics. This contributes to environmental sustainability while meeting business goals. Monitoring and adaptation to new technologies and market trends are crucial for long-term success.

Key Considerations for Scaling Bioplastics Production

Key Considerations for Scaling Bioplastics Production

Bioplastics offer several advantages compared to traditional plastics. However, it is essential to consider several aspects while scaling bioplastics for commercial production and usage. Some of the considerations are discussed below:

  1. More expensive production cost
    Bioplastics can be more expensive to produce than traditional plastics. This affects their market competitiveness. For example, PLA can be 20 to 50% more costly than comparable materials. This is due to the complex process used to convert corn or sugarcane into the building blocks for PLA. Efficient and eco-friendly production strategies for bioplastics are developed by researchers and companies. This leads to coming down of the cost the prices3.

  2. Competition with food crops
    Large-scale production of bioplastics may compete with food crops for agricultural land. Bioplastics often rely on food crops such as corn or sugarcane for feedstock. Large-scale cultivation of these crops can lead to several problems. These include deforestation, competition with food crops, and impacts on biodiversity. This can also impact food prices and availability. This has led to a debate about the ethical use of agricultural resources for non-food applications.

  3. Resource-intensive production process
    The production processes for some bioplastics can be resource-intensive. These require significant amounts of water and energy. This resource intensity can offset the environmental benefits of using renewable resources.

  4. Lack of suitable infrastructure
    Biodegradable plastics may not be broken down in all environments. They may need specific conditions to biodegrade efficiently. For example, some bioplastic needs high-temperature industrial composting facilities to break down. Such infrastructure is available in very few cities. As a result, bioplastics often end up in landfills where deprived of oxygen. They may release methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide3. Compostable bioplastics would require industrial composting facilities which are not universally available. Thus, they release methane gas when it breaks down slowly in a typical landfill.

  5. Recycling challenges
    Bioplastics can contaminate traditional plastic recycling streams. This makes it challenging to recycle them efficiently. Sorting of bioplastics in recycling facilities can be complex and economically unfeasible.

  6. Limitations in mechanical and thermal properties
    Some bioplastics may have limitations in mechanical and thermal properties compared to traditional plastics. This can restrict their use in certain applications. For example, in high-performance packaging or durable goods.

  7. Challenges in environmental impact
    Some bioplastics may need additives for specific properties (flexibility/durability) like traditional plastics. This may pose challenges for overall environmental impact. Life cycle assessments (LCAs) are essential to understand the environmental impact of a material. In some cases, the environmental benefits of bioplastics may be overstated. This can be due to incomplete or biased assessments.

Webinar Carbios

Thus, as the field of bioplastics continues to evolve, addressing these challenges will be crucial. This will ensure their effectiveness as a sustainable alternative to traditional plastics.

  1. https://www.european-bioplastics.org/market/
  2. Posen, I. Daniel, et al. "Greenhouse gas mitigation for US plastics production: energy first, feedstocks later." Environmental research letters 12.3 (2017): 034024
  3. https://www.news.pitt.edu/sites/default/files/documents
  4. Muthuraj, Rajendran. Biodegradable polymer blends and their biocomposites: compatibilization and performance evaluation. Diss. University of Guelph, 2015
  5. Wang, Jinwu, et al. "Moisture and oxygen barrier properties of cellulose nanomaterial-based films." ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering 6.1 (2018): 49-70
  6. https://docs.european-bioplastics.org/2016/publications/fs/EuBP_fs_automotive.pdf

Key Applications

Leave a comment

Want to comment?

No Account yet?

Rate this Content
Be the first to comment on "Bioplastics 101: Making the Right Biopolymer Choice"

Back to Top