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.