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Plastics & Elastomers

A Sustainable Pathway: Embracing the Mass Balance Approach in the Plastics Industry

SpecialChem – Aug 1, 2023

TAGS:  Sustainability and Bioplastics    

The mass balance approach enables the production of similar polymers by combining alternative renewable or circular feedstock with fossil-based feedstock. The polymers produced this way are:

  • certified by internationally known certificates
  • used to make new plastic products for customers in a more sustainable way.

Mass Balance Approach for Biopolymers

This approach creates a bridge between today’s linear economy and the sustainable circular plastics economy of the future. Hence, it is a crucial step towards the circular economy for plastics.

Read on and get to know more about:

  1. How to manage biopolymers in complex supply chains?
  2. Why select a mass balance approach?
  3. What are the essential criteria for implementing a mass balance approach?
  4. Where should companies start while adopting a mass balance approach?
  5. What is the checklist to consider for its quick implementation?
  6. What are the certifications used for mass balance approach?

How to manage biopolymers in complex supply chains?

The mass balance approach is an effective method for managing the use of biopolymers within complex supply chains. It involves tracing the flow of materials from the feedstock stage to the final product, following predefined and transparent rules. These rules serve as criteria to determine whether a product can be classified as renewable or circular.

When implementing the mass balance approach with biopolymers, entails substituting fossil-based feedstock with renewable or circular feedstock in the production process. For each metric ton of renewable or circular feedstock used as a replacement, approximately a metric ton of the output can be attributed to this sustainable source. This ensures accurate measurement and verification of the environmental benefits associated with incorporating biopolymers throughout the production cycle.

By adopting the mass balance approach for biopolymers, companies can transition towards a more sustainable and environmentally friendly approach. It reduces:

  • dependence on fossil resources,
  • minimizes greenhouse gas emissions, and
  • aligns with the principles of the circular economy by utilizing renewable or circular feedstocks.

Following the predefined and transparent rules of the mass balance approach enables companies to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and responsible resource management.

Related Read: Can bioplastics make your circularity & sustainability goals come true?

Why select a mass balance approach?

The mass balance approach offers several advantages, particularly in attracting customers who share the commitment to creating a sustainable future and safeguarding our planet. The advantages of the approach are as follows:

  • preservation of fossil resources
  • mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions
  • promotion of the utilization of renewable resources
  • guaranteed consistent product quality and properties
  • getting certified by an independent certification body, adhering to the REDcert2 standard or other international certifications, for example, ISCC+

SABIC ISCC Plus Certified Ultem Resins
Download Now: SABIC’s ISCC+ Certified ULTEMTM Resins Based on Mass Balance Approach

What are the essential criteria for implementing a mass balance approach?

To ensure the credibility of the claims, companies adopting the mass balance approach in the chemicals and plastics production processes should adhere to the following key criteria, which can be audited by an independent third party:

  1. Feedstock qualification: Companies must provide a transparent description of how responsibly sourced renewable feedstock is qualified and demonstrate its measurable greenhouse gas savings in comparison to its fossil-based counterpart.

  2. Chain of custody: The system boundaries and scope of the chain of custody must be clearly defined. Material flow along the chain of custody and bill of materials should be auditable by a third party. Each chain of custody approach must conform to a publicly available standard.

  3. Product claims: Product claims should be verifiable and certified. These products should be identified as renewable attributed products and should not be referred to as "bio-based products."

Where should companies start while adopting a mass balance approach?

  1. Firstly, one needs to be sure that mass balance is the chain of custody model that is best for their market and business operations.
  2. A certification scheme should be selected that best suits the business, considering the benefits, market demand, scalability, and standards that will need to be met.
  3. A plan or MVP should be outlined for a system that will allow the company to maintain reliable bookkeeping for the certification that are selected.
  4. A certification body has to be found that will conduct the auditing for the certification for the site(s) and product(s).
  5. A practical timeline has to be outlined for implementation, considering the operational change and auditing steps required.

Implementation of Bio-based Mass Balance Approach by DSM

What is the checklist to consider for its quick implementation?

To ensure the proper implementation of the mass balance approach, several certification schemes exist, all aiming to maintain its integrity. While these schemes may have different frameworks, they share a common requirement for comprehensive documentation and reporting of material inputs and outputs.

  • Establishing a robust documentation and reporting system is crucial to maintain trust in the mass balance approach. According to ISO 22095:2020, a bookkeeping system must be employed to track the flow of materials throughout the process where the mass balance approach is applied (excluding energy sources).

  • To ensure the credibility of the material allocation process, an independent third party, often a certification body, must conduct an audit. This includes verifying the bookkeeping system, materials used, and reporting procedures.

  • Periodic reporting is essential to maintain continuous compliance. The overall balance, ensuring that output credits do not exceed input credits, must be reported regularly within the designated bookkeeping period.

  • When trading materials between companies, sustainability declarations are required. Sustainable material credits can be allocated to output materials, as long as the net proportions of material characteristics are preserved. These materials must be accompanied by a certificate (sustainability declaration) that provides information about their sourcing and sustainability profile.

While various third-party certification schemes align with the principles of mass balance, each scheme may have distinct frameworks and focuses.

Mixture of Fossil and Recycled Feedstock
Allocation of Mass Balance Characteristic

What are the certifications used for mass balance approach?

ISCC Logo International Sustainability & Carbon Certification (ISCC) plus — This system is intended to assist bioeconomy and circular economy activities such as reducing, reusing, and recycling, which will decrease negative impacts on natural resources and climate emissions. It is governed by the ISCC system, which is based on a multi-stakeholder approach.

Redcert Logo REDcert — It offers certification schemes for sustainable biomass, biofuels, and bioliquids (REDcert-EU), as well as sustainable agricultural raw materials and biomass for material purposes (REDcert²). Their practical and unified approach allows to certify various raw materials with a single audit, applicable to all economic operators in the value chain. While focusing mainly on Germany and Europe, REDcert promotes sustainability across these industries.

Ecoloop Logo ecoloop certification — This system utilizes elements from EN ISO 14021:2016, TÜV SÜD CMS 71, EuCertPlast, and RAL UZ 30a standards. It certifies products, showcasing contributions to the circular economy and promoting waste-based plastics. Thus, it focuses on recycled plastics and is more limited in scope than the other certification schemes included. It is governed by the company's ecocycle.

RSB Logo The RSB standard for advanced products — It is part of a set of standards, procedures, and guidance documents utilized by producers to demonstrate compliance with the RSB principles & criteria and achieve best-in-class certification. It specifically applies to producers of non-energy products.


  1. https://www.sabic.com/en/sustainability/circular-economy/lca-and-mass-balance
  2. https://plastics-rubber.basf.com/emea/en/performance_polymers/sustainability/biomass-balance
  3. https://www.circularise.com/blogs/mass-balance-approach-for-the-sustainable-chemicals
  4. https://www.iscc-system.org/
  5. https://www.redcert.org/en/
  6. https://ecoloop.network/
  7. https://rsb.org/rsb-standard-for-advanced-products/

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