Bioplastics Glossary

This glossary aspires to support a common understanding of relevant terms of the bioplastics industry and market. The definitions will be regularly updated depending on new developments in e.g. standardisation and EU legislation.

If you have questions regarding any of the terms defined, please contact us and share your feedback with us at press(at)european–bioplastics.org

Plants that are rich on carbohydrates, such as corn or sugar cane, can be used as food as well as animal feed and are known as “food crops” or so-called 1st generation feedstock. The source of carbon for producing bioplastics is the sugar, lipid or starch directly extracted from a plant. First generation feedstock has been cultivated over centuries with regard to reducing their land use, increasing their yields and resistance to pests. It is currently also the most efficient feedstock for the production of bioplastics.

2nd generation feedstock refers to feedstock not suitable for food or feed production. It can be either non-food crops (e.g. cellulose) or waste materials from 1st generation feedstock (e.g. waste vegetable oil).

The term 3rd generation feedstock refers to biomass derived from algae, which has a higher growth yield than either 1st and 2nd generation feedstock, and therefore has been allocated their own category.

Aerobic means ”in the presence of oxygen”. Composting, an aerobic process, involves microorganisms accessing the oxygen present in the surround- ing atmosphere and breaking down the organic material into energy, CO2, water, and biomass, whereby a part of the energy of the organic material is released as heat. (See also > Composting)

Anaerobic digestion is a process in which organic matter is degraded by a microbial population of bacteria in the absence of oxygen. This process produces methane and carbon dioxide (biogas) and compost . During the process, no heat is being released. The resulting biogas can be treated in a Combined Heat and Power Plant (CHP) to produce electricity and heat or be upgraded into bio-methane.

Automatic sorting means the automatic separation of specific recyclable material types or subtypes from the stream of collected waste (municipal, household, industry, etc.). It is carried out by machines using NIR (= near infrared) or photo sorting systems but still requires checks by hand to ensure the best quality output.

The term biobased describes a material or product that is (at least in part) derived from biomass.

Biobased carbon is carbon derived from biomass. A material or product that is made from fossil and renewable resources contains fossil and biobased carbon

Biobased carbon content is a variable that describes the share of carbon that is derived from biomass in a material or product. The share of biobased carbon in the material or product is often expressed as percentage of the weight (mass) of the total organic carbon, or the total carbon of the product.

Biobased carbon content is measured using the 14C method (radio carbon dating method) that adheres to the technical specification CEN/TS 16137 and the upcoming European norm EN 16640 (or the corresponding US standard ASTM 6866).

Labels stating that a product or a material is biobased should ideally be based on harmonised standard and feature a corresponding certificate by an independent third-party institution. The label should also name the share (or percentage) of the biobased content in the final product. Corresponding certification systems and labels are available via DIN CERTCO and Vinçotte. Both authorities base their certification on the technical specification CEN/ TS 16137 and the upcoming European norm EN 16640 (14C method for determining biobased carbon content).

Certification and corresponding labels showing the biobased mass content (as opposed to the biobased content) have been developed by the French Association Chimie du Végétal and are based on the European norm EN 16640.

This variable describes the fraction of the total mass of a product/material that is derived from biomass. Usually it is expressed as percentage of the total mass of the product/material. The method to determine the biobased mass content is complementary to the determination of the biobased carbon content, but also takes into account other elements present in biobased products in large quantities (oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, etc.). It has been developed and tested by the Association Chimie du Végétal (ACDV). The CEN-Technical Committee 411 (Working Group 5) uses the term biobased content synonymously to describe the term biobased mass content. The corresponding European norm is EN 16785 – 1 (upcoming).

A plastic, whose constitutional units are wholly or partly made from biomass (CEN TR 15932).

Biodegradation is a natural chemical process in which materials are being transformed into natural substances such as water, carbon and biomass with the help of microorganisms. The process of biodegradation depends on the environmental conditions as well as on the material or application itself. Consequently, the process and its outcome can vary considerably.

Biodegradability is linked to the structure of the polymer chain and does not depend on the origin of the raw materials.

Claims about biodegradability should always feature additional specifications about the timeframe and environment the material can biodegrade in as well as certificates or test results in order to avoid vague or misleading claims. There is currently no overarching standard to back up claims about biodegradability. For more information on environmental claims, please have a look at the Environmental Communications Guide.

Material of biological origin excluding material embedded in geological formations and material transformed to fossilised material. Biomass includes organic material, e.g. trees, crops, grasses, tree litter, algae, and waste of biological origin e.g. manure. Biomass used for bioplastics is currently mainly derived from corn, sugarcane, or cellulose.

Bioplastics constitute a broad range of materials and products that are biobased, biodegradable/compostable, or both.

CA = cellulose acetate

HDPE = high density polyethylene

LDPE = low density polyethylene

PA = polyamide

PBAT = polybutylene adipate-co-terephthalate

PBS = Polybutylene succinate

PCL = Polycaprolacton

PE = polyethylene

PEF =polyethylene fuanorate

PET = polyethylene terephthalate

PHA = polyhydroxyalkanoate

PHB = polyhydroxybutyrate

PLA = polylactic acid

PP = polypropylene

PTT = polytrimethylene terephthalate

Cascade use of renewable feedstock means that the biomass is first used to produce biobased industrial products and afterwards – due to their favourable energy balance – for energy generation (e.g. biobased compostable plastic products in biogas production). This way, the feedstock is used efficiently and the added value is increased considerably.

Certification is a process in which materials/products undergo a string of tests in order to verify that they fulfil certain requirements. Sound certification systems should be based on (ideally harmonised) European standards or technical specifications (according to CEN, for example) and be performed by independent third-party laboratories. Successful certification guarantee high product safety. On this basis, corresponding labels can be awarded that help the consumer to make an informed decision.

Carbon footprint of products (CFPs) and/or Product Carbon Footprint (PCFs) Balance of greenhouse gas emissions and removal in a production process expressed as a CO2 equivalent and based on a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). The CO2 equivalent of a specific amount of a greenhouse gas is calculated as the mass of a given greenhouse gas multiplied by its global warming potential. The ISO 14067 standard for the “Carbon Footprint of Products” provides detailed information on how to measure and report on the CFPs and how to use carbon footprint claims correctly. The CFP is a subset of the LCA as it focuses on a single environmental impact i.e. climate change.

CO2-neutrality describes a material or product having a net zero carbon footprint. The amount of carbon released is balanced out by an equivalent amount, either sequestered or offset, or by purchasing sufficient carbon credits to make up the difference. The latter option is not permissible when communicating Life Cycle Assessments or carbon footprints regarding a material or product (according to ISO 14067). Most products do not attain car-bon-neutrality when their complete life cycle is taken into account. However, if an assessment of a material is conducted (cradle to gate), carbon neutrality can be a valid claim in a business-to-business context. Yet, if the “material carbon footprint” (cradle to gate) is negative, the resulting product may even attain CO2-neutrality.

Compostability is a characteristic of a product that enables biodegradation under specific conditions (i.e. a certain temperature, timeframe, etc.). At the end of this process, for example in an industrial composting plant, only natural products remain (water, carbon, biomass).

Currently, the distinction is made between industrial and home composting.

The specific criteria for industrial compostability of packaging materials, such as the environment, temperature, and timeframe, have been defined in EN 13432 (or equivalent ASTM 6400). Materials and products complying with this standard can be certified and subsequently labelled accordingly with the Seedling label. There is currently no European standard for home composting. Yet, national regulations, standards, or certification programmes do exist in Italy (UNI 11183), Belgium (Vinçotte, OK compost home label) and the United Kingdom.

Composting is the controlled aerobic (oxygen-requiring) decomposition of organic materials by microorganisms in controlled conditions. It reduces the volume and mass of the raw materials while transforming them into a valuable soil conditioner: compost.

Mentions about the composting of bioplastics usually refer to industrial composting in a managed composting facility (criteria for which are defined in EN 13432).

The main difference between industrial and home/garden composting is that temperatures in industrial composting facilities are much higher and kept stable, whereas the temperature of a home compost are usually lower and less constant as well as being influenced by multiple other factors such as weather conditions. Home composting is a much slower process than industrial composting involving a comparatively smaller volume of waste. While a French norm has recently been developed, a European norm for home composting is yet to be developed.

A statement, symbol, or graphic that indicates one or more environmental aspect(s) of a product, a component, packaging or a service (ISO 14021 on Self-declared Environmental Claims).

For more information on environmental claims, refer to the Environmental Communications Guide.

End-of-waste criteria specify when certain waste ceases to be waste and obtains a status of a product (or a secondary raw material).

Describes the recovery and exploitation of the energy potential in (plastic) waste for the production of electricity or heat in waste incineration plants (waste-to-energy).

Enzyme-mediated plastics are not bioplastics (see definition of bioplastics). Instead, a conventional non-biodegradable plastic (e.g. fossil-based PE) is enriched with small amounts of an organic additive. Microorganisms are supposed to consume these additives expanding the degradation process to the non-biodegradable PE, thus making the material degrade. After some time, the plastic is supposed to visually disappear and to be completely converted into carbon dioxide and water. This is a theoretical concept, which has yet to be backed up by any verifiable proof. Producers promote enzyme-mediated plastics as a solu-tion to littering. Yet, since no proof for the degradation process has been provided, the environmentally beneficial effects are highly questionable.

Genetically modified organism (GMO) Organisms such as plants and animals whose genetic material (DNA) has been altered are called genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Food and feed that contain or consist of such GMOs or are produced from GMOs are called genetically modified (GM) food or feed (European Commission). If GM crops are used in the production of bioplastics, the multiple-stage processing and the high heat used to create the polymer removes all traces of genetic material. This means that the final bioplastics product contains no genetic traces. Provided that the resulting bioplastic complies to all other requirements set out for food contact (e.g. the European Food Contact Regulation or the US FDA Food Contact Requirement), it is therefore well suited to be used for food packaging as it contains no genetically modified material.

A natural and anthropogenic gaseous constituent of the atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiation at specific wavelengths within the spectrum of infrared radiation emitted by the earth’s surface, the atmosphere, and clouds (ISO 14064 on Greenhouse gases).

The act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service (TerraChoice Group Inc, 2009).

See Composting.

See Composting

The area required to grow sufficient feedstock to produce (a) certain product(s) (food, feed or industrial products such as bioplastics). Today’s bioplastic production requires less than 0.01 percent of the global agricultural area of 5 billion hectares. In contrast to this, the current land use for food and feed production as well as for use as pastures amounts to 96-97 percent.

The consecutive and interlinked stages of a production process from raw material acquisition or generation of natural resources to its final disposal (ISO 14044 on Life-Cycle Assessment).

LCA is the compilation and evaluation of the input, output and the potential environmental impact of a product system throughout its life cycle (ISO 14044 on Life Cycle Assessment). It is sometimes also referred to as life cycle analysis, ecobalance or cradle-to-grave analysis.

Littering is the (illegal) act of dropping waste, such as cigarette butts, paper, tins, and bottles, in open or public spaces instead of putting it in respective waste bins.

Following the European Commission’s definition, “marine litter consists of items that have been deliberately discarded, unintentionally lost or transported by winds and rivers into the sea and onto beaches. It mainly consists of plastics, wood, metals, glass, rubber, clothing and paper”. Marine debris originates from a variety of sources. Shipping and fishing activities are the predominant sea-based sources; ineffectively managed landfills as well as pub-lic littering the main land-based sources. Marine litter can pose a threat to living organisms, especially due to potential ingestion or entanglement.

Currently, there is no international standard available to appropriately describe the biodegradation of plastics in the marine environment. However, a number of standardisation projects are currently being developed at ISO and ASTM level. Furthermore, the European project OPEN BIO addresses the marine biodegradation of biobased products.

Mass balance describes the relationship between input and output of a specific substance within a system in which the output from the system cannot exceed the input into the system.

Oxo-(bio)degradable / oxo-degradable / oxo-fragmentable plastics Oxo-fragmentable materials and products do not biodegrade. The underlying technology of oxo-degradability or oxo-fragmentation is based on special additives, which, if incorporated into standard resins, are purported to accelerate the fragmentation of the film products. Oxo-degradable or oxo-fragmentable materials do not meet accepted industry standards on compostability such as EN 13432 (see also composting).

A mechanism for compensating all or parts of the carbon footprint of a product through the prevention, release of, reduction in, or removal of an amount of greenhouse gas emissions in a process outside the product system. Examples include external investment in renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency measures, or afforestation/reforestation. Offsetting is not permissible in the carbon footprint of a product’s quantification and is thus not reflected in any carbon footprint communication. (ISO 14021 on Self-Declared Environmental Claims and ISO 14067 on Quantification and Communication of Carbon Footprints).

Organic recycling means the treatment of separately collected organic waste by anaerobic digestion and/or composting.

Plastic is a generic term for a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic materials.

The term ‘plastic’ is derived from the Greek word ‘plastikos’ meaning ‘fit for moulding’ and ‘plastos’ meaning ‘moulded’. It refers to the material’s malleability or plasticity during manu-facturing, which allows it to be cast, pressed, or extruded into a variety of shapes.

There are two broad categories of plastic materials: thermoplastics and thermosetting plastics. Thermoplastics can be heated up to form products. If these end products are reheated, the plastic will soften and melt again. In contrast, thermoset plastics can be melted and formed, but once they have solidified, they stay solid and, unlike thermoplastics, cannot be remelted (Source: Plastics Europe).

A method based on the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to calculate the envi- ronmental per-formance of a product. It indicates the various environmental impacts or the aggregated environmental impact over the full lifespan of a product and not merely the climate impact. This concept is not to be confused with the concept of carbon footprinting, which has been in use for several years. The environmental impacts taken into account include emissions into water or soil, the use of scarce resources and other impacts, such as noise, and land use.

Organic recycling means the treatment of separately collected organic waste by anaerobic digestion and/or composting.

A characteristic of goods, packaging or associated components that can be diverted from the waste stream through available processes and infra- structure and can be collected, pro-cessed and returned to use in form of raw materials or goods. (ISO 14021 on Self-declared Environmental Claims.

According to the Waste Framework Directive 2008/98/EC, “recovery means any operation the principal result of which is waste serving a useful purpose by replacing other materials which would otherwise have been used to fulfil a particular function, or waste being pre-pared to fulfil that function, in the plant or in the wider economy”.

Agricultural raw materials not used as food or feed but as raw material for industrial prod-ucts or to generate energy. The use of renewable resour- ces by industry reduces the de-pendency on fossil resources and, hence, reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emis-sions. Biobased plastics are predominantly made from annual crops such as corn, cereals, and sugar beet or perennial cultures such as cassava and sugar cane.

Resource efficiency refers to the use of limited natural resources in a sustainable way while minimising impacts on the environment. A resource- efficient economy creates more output or value with the same or less input.

The ‘Seedling’ compostability label is connected to the standard EN 13432/EN 14995 and a certification process managed by the independent institutions DIN CERTCO and Vinçotte. Bioplastic products carrying the Seedling label fulfil the criteria laid down in EN 13432 regarding industrial compostability.

Separate collection is a selective collection of waste materials intended for mechanical or organic recycling. It is carried out for a specific type of product or waste, e.g. packaging, organic waste, and glass. Specifically designated bags, bins or container stations help to manage the different streams.

Standardisation is the effort made by industrial and other stakeholders to define criteria for the description of products and services. The idea is to ease competition and the commercial growth by overcoming barriers that result from unclear or incompatible specifications. The use of standards is voluntary. This means that a company can decide whether to seek compliance with a standard or not. Should the company decide not to comply, it is not permissible to make reference to the standard.

Certain European standards are known as harmonised standards. This means that the European Commission has mandated the European Standardisation Organisation (CEN) to specify the content of the standard.

Standards specify, for example, how the biodegradability or renewability of a given material needs to be measured, or which criteria need to be fulfilled. A product or service that fulfils these requirements can legitimately claim compliance to the specific standard.

Sustainable sourcing of renewable feedstock for biobased plastics is a pre- requisite for more sustainable products. Impacts such as the deforestation of protected habitats or social and environmental damage arising from poor agricultural practices must be avoided. Corresponding certification schemes, such as ISCC PLUS, WLC or BonSucro, are an appropriate tool for ensuring the sustainable sourcing of biomass for all applications around the globe.

A characteristic or state whereby the needs of the present population can be met without compromising the ability of future generations or populations in other locations to meet their needs. (UNEP)

In the European Union Waste Framework Directive 2008 a waste hierarchy has been defined in five steps: 1. prevention, 2. preparation for re-use, 3. recycling, 4. other recovery, e.g. energy recovery and 5. disposal. The goal is to conserve resources as best possible.

Separate collection is a selective collection of waste materials intended for mechanical or organic recycling. It is carried out for a specific type of product or waste, e.g. packaging, organic waste, and glass. Specifically designated bags, bins or container stations help to manage the different streams.

Standardisation is the effort made by industrial and other stakeholders to define criteria for the description of products and services. The idea is to ease competition and the commercial growth by overcoming barriers that result from unclear or incompatible specifications. The use of standards is voluntary. This means that a company can decide whether to seek compliance with a standard or not. Should the company decide not to comply, it is not permissible to make reference to the standard.

Certain European standards are known as harmonised standards. This means that the European Commission has mandated the European Standardisation Organisation (CEN) to specify the content of the standard.

Standards specify, for example, how the biodegradability or renewability of a given material needs to be measured, or which criteria need to be fulfilled. A product or service that fulfils these requirements can legitimately claim compliance to the specific standard.

Sustainable sourcing of renewable feedstock for biobased plastics is a pre- requisite for more sustainable products. Impacts such as the deforestation of protected habitats or social and environmental damage arising from poor agricultural practices must be avoided. Corresponding certification schemes, such as ISCC PLUS, WLC or BonSucro, are an appropriate tool for ensuring the sustainable sourcing of biomass for all applications around the globe.

A characteristic or state whereby the needs of the present population can be met without compromising the ability of future generations or populations in other locations to meet their needs. (UNEP)