Frequently Asked Questions

What does biodegradable mean?

The term biodegradable refers to a chemical process during which micro-organisms that are available in the environment convert materials into natural substances such as water, carbon dioxide and biomass (artificial additives are not needed, but are unfortunately still allowed in some biodegradable products). The process of biodegradation depends on the surrounding environmental conditions (e.g. location or temperature), on the material itself, and on the application. Biodegradability is an inherent property of certain bioplastic materials that can benefit specific applications (e.g. biowaste bags or service ware).

What is a bioplastic?

The term bioplastic encompasses a whole family of materials which differ from conventional plastics insofar as that they are biobased, biodegradable, or both. Bio-based means that the material or product is at least partly derived from biomass (plants). In the case of bioplastics, this means a minimum of 20% of the material must be derived from plant-based sources. Biomass used for bioplastics stems from e.g. corn, sugarcane, or cellulose, usually depending on what raw materials are most readily available in the country of manufacture.

What does compostable mean?

Compostability is the ability for a material to be broken down into only carbon dioxide, water, and biomass under industrial composting conditions within 180 days. This process requires heat, moisture, microbes, and oxygen. The standard that determines the compostability of a material is found in ASTM D6400 and ISO 17088.

Are all bioplastics compostable?

No. The term "bioplastic" is not an indicator of which end-of-life options it may be suitable for. Bioplastics may not be compostable for a number of reasons, including: 1. they break down too slowly to fit under the definition of compostability; 2. they contain a sufficient level of material that will not biodegrade into carbon dioxide, water and biomass and/or they contain potentially hazardous additives to trigger biodegradation that remain present after the material has broken down; and/or 3. they are not deemed to be compostable based on the standards set out by ASTM D6400.

What is the difference between biodegradable and compostable?

Biodegradability indicates the ability for a material to be degraded into its most basic building blocks by the action of microbes, in the case of plastics, this would be carbon dioxide. There is no concrete time limitation for a material to be deemed biodegradable. On the other hand, when a material is compostable, it indicates that it can undergo biodegradation in a certain period of time, in composting conditions. Therefore, not all biodegradable plastics are compostable, but all compostable plastics are biodegradable.

Can I compost bioplastics in my backyard?

Generally, no. Compostability in a backyard is very dependent on the type of compostable plastic, and products are certified compostable based on standards available in industrial facilities. While PLA-based products may not be backyard compostable, they may show signs of degradation over a longer time in this setting if the right conditions are met to begin the process.

Do bioplastics biodegrade in a marine environment?

Ocean degradation is again dependent on the type of plastic. While PLA-based products are typically not likely to be ocean degradable as per ASTM D6691, products produced from polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) may biodegrade in a marine environment.

Will bioplastics degrade in a landfill?

Without the assistance of water, heat, and microbes, it is difficult for most biodegradable plastics to undergo degradation fast enough to deem them “biodegradable on land”, although these products will degrade significantly faster than non-biodegradable, petroleum-based plastics. Some bioplastics have the specific ability to degrade into methane under landfill conditions much like other organic compounds. The standard that dictates this process is ASTM D5526.

Why should I use bioplastics?

Bio-based plastics can help reduce our dependency on limited fossil resources by substituting petroleum-based raw materials with annually renewable resources, such as corn, sugar beet or perennial cultures (including cassava and sugar cane). Bio-based plastics also possess the unique potential to reduce GHG emissions or even be carbon neutral. Plants absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide as they grow. Using this biomass to create biobased plastic products removes these greenhouse gases (CO2) from the atmosphere. This carbon fixation can be extended for a period of time if the material is recycled. In the case of compostable bioplastics, the cycle can be closed as the degraded biomass can be used to grow new plants.

What applications can I use bioplastics for?

Bioplastics already play an important role in the fields of packaging, agriculture, foodservices, consumer electronics and automotive industries to name a few. In these market segments, bioplastic materials are used to manufacture products intended for short term use, such as mulch films or catering products, as well as durable applications where there is a focus on reducing reliance on fossil fuels, such as mobile phone covers or interior components for cars.

What are bioplastics made of?

Bioplastics are not a single kind of plastic, but rather a family of materials that vary considerably from one another. Bio-based plastics are partially or completely based on natural, renewable resources. The biomass used for bio-based plastics today comes mostly from grain (corn), sugar cane, potatoes or castor oil. Other natural resources, such as cellulose and crop by-products (corn stover, straw, switchgrass) are expected to be more readily available in the coming years. 

How do the performance of bioplastics differ from that of traditional petroleum-based plastics?

In some cases, the material properties of bioplastics may actually exceed that of traditional petroleum-based plastics, such as the higher rigidity and lower density of some bioplastics compared to PET. This allows for less material to be used to produce the same part, meaning there is also an opportunity to meet packaging reduction or product right-sizing goals. On the other hand, the heat and impact resistance of early bioplastics were generally not as effective for applications beyond disposable foodservice packaging.

Don't bioplastics contaminate the recycling waste stream?

Generally speaking, any plastics can contaminate the waste stream, depending on what material the recycler's business model is based upon. For example, PVC (Recycling #3) can very easily contaminate the recycling stream of PET (Recycling #1) because they look very similar, feel very similar, and have very similar densities. This means that it is very hard to separate PVC and PET without infrared equipment. This is similar with HDPE, LDPE, PP and PS, which is why only visually distinct PET beverage bottles get recycled at high quantities as they can also be manually sorted. However, more sophisticated recycling facilities have the ability to very rigorously sort plastics based on the chemical nature of the material through techniques like infrared spectroscopy. At that point, the question becomes more about whether the recycler's business model supports the sale of that specific sorted material.

Is bioplastic really "green"?

Depending on the nature of the plastic, most bioplastics are generally greener than their petroleum-based counterparts. Bio-based plastics are made from at least a portion of plant-based materials meaning that the feedstock is produced from rapidly renewable resources, which are also generally the result of photosynthesis of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Are bioplastics edible?

Bioplastics can be used for packaging, service ware, automotive parts, electronic consumer goods and many more applications where conventional plastics are used. Plastic items should not be ingested – be they made from bioplastics or not. Bioplastics used for packaging of food and beverages are approved for food contact, but are not designed for human consumption. We've seen the stunts where bioplastics are ingested to show their safety, but we feel confident saying they would not be part of a healthy, balanced diet!

Are bioplastics toxic?

In general, the base material for most bioplastics is not considered hazardous. However, to achieve performance characteristics required for certain applications, some manufacturers include additional additives that may affect the toxicity level. For example, typical additives used to improve flame retardancy are often halogen-based, which can be toxic if it leaches out of the polymer.
Any manufacturer should be able to supply a Material Safety Data Sheet to show their bioplastic contains no hazardous chemicals if avoiding toxicity is a priority.

Aren't bioplastics mainly used in single-use disposable applications?

This was often true with first-generation bioplastics, which still make up a large part of the manufacturer base. However more recent entrants in the bioplastic industry, like Solegear, have been focusing on more durable materials.

What are the real recycling rates for plastics?

As reported by Plastics News, the United States reported an overall recycling rate of 9% in 2012. In Europe, the rate was 26% over the same timeframe. Of these overall amounts, most post-consumer recycling is comprised of PET and HDPE bottles, which can sometimes reach over 30%. Interestingly, world plastics production has continued to rise by just over 3% annually despite recycling efforts. (APNOR and SPI)

Thermoformed PET packaging can be recycled, so why should I use bioplastics?

In fact, most of the thermoformed packaging produced in the US is not ultimately recycled for several reasons, including: 1. the recycler may not have the equipment necessary to sort PET from PVC packaging, so limits sorting to PET and HDPE bottles; 2. PET packaging can include complex parts, including paper backers, adhesives, printing and labelling, which may make it difficult to recycle without manual intervention; 3. the packaging may be contaminated with food waste or other contents; and/or 4. the recycler may not have a buyer for these types of materials, and so considers them waste. In addition, all plastics "downgrade", meaning they can only be re-processed a finite number of times before they are no longer usable. For this reason, there are additional benefits to bioplastics made from rapidly renewable materials.

What is downcycling?

Downcycling is the process of converting waste materials or discarded products into new materials or products of lesser quality and reduced functionality. Recycled plastics can only be converted into lower grade plastic products or packaging. A plastic product can be downcycled a finite number of times, after which point it becomes general waste.

What does non-toxic mean?

At some level, almost all substances are toxic. Therefore, it’s a relative term. Our process to ensure a product or raw material is non-toxic is to ensure that a certified Material Safety Data Sheet has been issued and that no chemicals found on California's Proposition 65 list are included in our formulations.

What is PLA?

PLA, Poly(lactic acid) or polylactide (PLA) is a biodegradable thermoplastic derived from renewable resources, most typically cornstarch or sugarcane.

What is Polypropylene?

Polypropylene (PP) is a thermoplastic petroleum-based polymer used in a wide variety of applications including packaging, textiles, reusable containers and stereo speakers. It is rugged and unusually resistant to many chemical solvents, bases and acids.

What is thermoplastic?

A thermoplastic is a plastic that turns to a liquid when heated, freezes to a very solid state when cooled sufficiently and can repeat this process several times.

Do Solegear bioplastics cost more?

They don’t have to. Solegear formulates its biopolymers to work within existing production equipment so that no additional capital investments are required.

What are Solegear bioplastics made out of?

Solegear bioplastics are based on using the highest possible percentage of plant-based materials. Those materials range widely depending on the formulation, but many of our formulations are based on PLA as it's a readily available and cost-effective building block.

How are Solegear's bioplastics going to help me meet my company’s sustainability goals?

There are many ways bioplastic helps make your products more sustainable. Here are some of the primary benefits:

· Our bioplastics can be produced using less energy, meaning you may benefit from an immediate reduction in CO2 emissions

· Our bioplastics are made from plants, which are annually renewable resources, reducing your reliance on fossil fuels

· If hazardous materials are a priority for your company, you can rest assured that our bioplastics do not contain any chemicals of concern found on California's Proposition 65 list

· Given the strength and impact resistance of Solegear’s bioplastics, downgauging of materials or rightsizing of packaging to meet material reduction objectives is also a possibility

Why should I care about CO2 emissions?

CO2 is the primary driver of global warming and global CO2 emissions are rising every year. By choosing bioplastics, you could reduce your CO2 emissions by as much as 60% during the manufacturing process.

Why are Solegear bioplastics better than first generation bioplastics?

First generation bioplastics were plagued by issues with brittleness, lack of impact resistance and poor processability. Solegear’s next generation bioplastics have all been designed to meet or exceed the performance characteristics of their petroleum-based counterparts.

Can bioplastic replace any kind of plastic?

It can’t replace all plastic yet. But it can currently replace many types of traditional plastic used in anything from basic packaging to high performance products. Solegear is consistently innovating in partnership with our customers to allow bioplastics to be used in increasingly complex applications.

Are all Solegear bioplastics compostable?

Currently, all Polysole® grades of Solegear bioplastic are compostable in industrial facilities.