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.

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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.