Bio-based plastics have the unique advantage to reduce the dependency on fossil resources, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and increase resource efficiency. What is more, bioplastics are an essential part of the bioeconomy, which is worth 2 trillion euros in annual turnover and accounts for 22 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 potentials for growth and further innovation and development are enormous. These yet untapped potentials of 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 taken into account. 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 process vary widely, limiting the ability to make sound, substantiated comparisons.