Bio-based plastics can help to reduce the dependency on limited fossil resources, which are expected to become significantly more expensive in the coming decades. Bio-based plastics are made from renewable sources instead of oil and that way gradually substitute fossil resources used to produce plastics with renewable resources (currently predominantly annual crops, such as corn and sugar beet, or perennial cultures, such as cassava and sugar cane).
Bio-based plastics also have the unique potential to reduce GHG emissions or even be carbon neutral. Plants absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide as they grow. Using plants (i.e. biomass) to produce bio-based plastics constitutes a temporary removal of greenhouse gases (CO2) from the atmosphere. This carbon fixation can be extended for a period of time by establishing ‘use cascades’, that means if the material is being reused or recycled as often as possible before being used for energy recovery. In energy recovery, the previously sequestered CO2 is released and renewable energy is being produced.
Another major benefit of bio-based plastics is their potential to ‘close the cycle’ and increase resource efficiency. Depending on the end-of-life option, this can mean:
- Renewable resources are used to produce bio-based, durable products that can be reused, mechanically recycled and eventually incinerated whereby renewable energy is being produced.
- Renewable resources are used to produce bio-based, biodegradable and compostable products that can be organically recycled (industrial composting and anaerobic digestion) at the end of a product’s life cycle (if certified accordingly) and create valuable biomass (humus) during the process. The humus can be used to grow new plants, thus closing the cycle.
Furthermore, plastics that are bio-based and compostable can help to divert biowaste from landfill and increase waste management efficiency across Europe. For more information on that, please see the section on end-of-life (VII).