Bio-based plastics have the unique advantage to reduce the dependency on fossil resources, curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and increase resource efficiency. They are also an essential part of the bioeconomy which is worth 2.4 trillion euros in annual turnover and accounts for 18.5 million jobs in the EU. Although, compared to conventional plastics, the production of bioplastics is still small (about 1 percent of the entire global plastics production), the potential for growth and further innovation and development is enormous. These yet untapped opportunities for the bioplastics industry and the positive environmental, and socio-economic effects need to be considered when assessing the environmental impact of bioplastics – especially when compared to established conventional plastics. Currently, there are two meaningful indicators that sustainability assessments of bioplastics should focus on, as they rely on common methodologies and standards:
- biobased/renewable content (EN 16440, EN 16785-1 /-2, ASTM 6866)
- reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (ISO/TS 14067, GHG Protocol, PAS2050).
Life cycle assessments (LCAs) are an important tool for substantiating environmental claims (ISO 14040 and 14044) as they take into account many different factors such as energy use, GHG emissions, and water use. In order to get a complete picture of a product’s impact on the environment, the complete life cycle must be considered. Yet, LCAs can only shine a spotlight on a single product. They are not suitable for comparing different products as materials (e.g., fossil-based and bio-based) and processes vary widely, limiting the ability to make sound, substantiated comparisons.