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28.12.2020 -

The role of recyclable bioplastics in the fight against climate change

Tommi Vuorinen, Research Team Leader at VTT, knows Woodly® material very well as he has been involved in its development since 2016. VTT has been selected as Woodly’s product development and testing partner, as the development of bio-based polymers and thermoplastic solutions is one of VTT’s core competences.

According to Vuorinen, companies are becoming increasingly interested in bio-based plastics and plastics recyclability. Companies want to offer consumers environmentally friendly choices and to prepare for the EU’s plastics strategy, according to which, among other things, all plastic packaging must be recyclable by 2030. (Source: A European strategy for plastics in a circular economy)

However while many biodegradable and recyclable bioplastics made from renewable raw materials have been introduced to the market, it is often difficult for consumers to see what kind of plastic is the most environmentally friendly option. With this in mind, I asked Tommi Vuorinen, to share his and VTT’s views on biodegradable plastics and recyclable bioplastics.

Making plastic from bio-based material instead of fossil fuels is undoubtably the first step in preparing for a post-oil future. But biodegradable material can, under certain conditions, eventually decompose into water and carbon dioxide meaning that the carbon-dioxide is released into the atmosphere. On the other hand, when the material is recycled, the carbon-dioxide stays ”bound” to the product. 

“When carbon is bound to a material and the material is recycled the carbon remains bound to the material thus reducing the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. If the product is made biodegradable, it means that when it biodegrades, it releases carbon-dioxide into the athmosphere. This doesn’t really help to reduce the level of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere. ” Vuorinen says.

In addition, biodegradable plastic products don’t always end up being decomposed as planned. In many areas of Finland, for example, the waste companies have stated that only food-derived biowaste may be placed in biowaste, in which case biodegradable plastics will end up in mixed waste.

 

Aiming for a circular economy with sustainable materials. 

Non-biodegradability, as a property of plastic, means that it is durable and thus sustainable. When you consider climate change, it would also be best to recycle natural material to keep it in circulation for as long as possible. In other words, to focus on plastic materials that are “bio-based” instead of “bio-degradable”. 

“We will not save the world by making all products such that they sometimes end up as waste biodegradable. It is more important for people to understand the value of the material so that it remains in circulation for as long as possible.

There is no way to escape from our ”single-use” culture if the emphasis is placed on biodegradability alone. Biodegradability encourages a disposable economy. Recyclability encourages a circular economy. ” Vuorinen continues, “And Woodly’s (bio-based) material has been technically proven to be recyclable.”

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