Decode the different plant-based plastic or bioplastic

Today our earth appears to be wrapped in plastic. Plastics are used almost everywhere, like shopping bags, kitchenware, automobile industry, agricultural mulch, etc., and find various medical applications. Traditional plastics manufactured from non-renewable resources like oil, coal, and natural gas, which will get depleted shortly. It is estimated that the worldwide production of petroleum-based plastics is around 100 million tonnes annually, and 7 million barrels of petroleum are required per day to produce that plastic. That’s why the need arrived to have biodegradable and plant-based plastic that can easily be manufactured from natural sources and should not be hazardous to the environment. 

What is plant-based plastic?

Bio-based materials mean the substances recovered from living or dead animals or plants. Bio-based materials are a broad category of loosely related processing (or engineering) materials, mainly derived from substances existing in nature, such as in living tissues or organisms, may also be obtained by synthetic methods.

This blog covered bio-based plastic and biodegradable plastic though which have the composition and methodology only.

List of Plant-based plastics:

#No.1 Wood

Dow is the first transformed UPM BioVerno naphtha into renewable resins to create bioplastics, namely bioplastic Polyethylene (PE). 

UPM Raflatac for an innovative sustainability initiative to innovate the Wood-based transparent polypropylene plastic label. UPM Raflatac Forest Film: highlights the world’s first-of-its-kind wood-based polypropylene(PP) plastic label material.

Source: Woodly

UPM Raflatac Forest Film™ created from UPM BioVerno naphtha, a 100% wood-based label solution starting from sustainably managed forests. 

The brand owners need to restore conventional fossil-based virgin materials with renewable ones. It allows companies like Vellamo an effective and impactful approach to stretch beyond their sustainability goals without negotiating on product performance.

Kindly comment on, bio-plastic is biodegradable or not?

#No2 Cactus

A Mexican Scientist has innovated the biodegradable plant-based plastic from the Cactus plant that dissolves in soil and water.

It is mainly from the juice of the nopal cactus. Pascoe, the researcher at the University of the Valley of Atemajac, said, “The plastic is formed from the sugars of nopal juice which is monosaccharides and polysaccharides content.” The plant is indigenous to Mexico and can assist solve a global concern of plastic pollution suffocating our oceans and waterways.

Biodegradable plastic from Cactus, plastic from cactus, Pascoe,
Source: University of the Valley

The researcher said that the Biological and Agricultural Sciences of the University of Guadalajara help them know the properties of this plastic’s degradation and how prolonged it takes to decay in a natural environment.

#No 3 SugarCane

Polyethylene (PE) is a plant based plastic produced from sugarcane, a renewable raw material, while the convention Polyethylene utilized fossil sourced raw materials such as oil or natural gas. For this reason, Polyethylene captures and fixes CO² from the atmosphere during its production, helping to reduce greenhouse gases emission.

We all enjoy the taste of sugar, but it’s not just for eating. Sugarcane “Polythene plant based plastic” is the advanced development in sugar use, used in packaging for beverages bottles to liquid products. A plant-based plastics packaging alternative to plastic, it’s great to see that several brands adopt sugarcane.

The process for producing plant-based plastic from sugar cane is made up of pioneering technology. The first ‘crushing’ phase of processing releases the sugar juices used to create the sugar we know and love. The following ‘crushing’ steps break down the sugar cane further, which is then used to produce ethanol, plant-based alcohol. The next part is where new technology comes in. The ethanol is turned into a plant-based plastic i.e. ‘green’ polyethylene with the same physical properties as conventional Polyethylene made from oil. 


While sugarcane plastic isn’t biodegradable, it is 100 percent recyclable. Sugarcane also absorbs carbon dioxide. The fact that it absorbs one of our most significant pollutants makes it far superior to oil. Oil-based plastics require mining for oil, and this process releases carbon from the earth’s soil into our air. This process is a real kicker for climate change. The less we rely on oil-based products, the better.

One of the perks of growing sugarcane is its resilience. It can grow in the weakest of pastures and helps recover the soil. Sugarcane waste, known as bagasse, is also used to generate electricity that powers the ethanol production process. 

#No4 Corn

Corn was grown in the 1970s mainly for livestock feeds, but today it is increasingly used to produce high fructose corn syrup, fuel-alcohol, and other non-food products.

So, both conditions were favorable to the invention of Biodegradable plastic from corn starch. The process mainly consists of converting raw corn to starch first; then this corn starch is fermented with the help of an appropriate enzyme reaction yielding the Lactic Acid. Lactic acid is generated commercially by the fermentation of glucose, molasses, or cheese whey with homofermentative lactic acid bacteria.

Some of the strains like Rhizopus oryzae in surface culture converted D-glucose in a chemically defined medium in no small amount of L(+)-lactic acid. The conversion of Lactic Acid to Polylactic Acid is taking place via lactide through polycondensation reaction. Biodegradable plastic is provided with a function & performance as regular plastic use. This biodegradable plastic can be converted into useful items by conventional processing techniques like thermoforming.

#No5 Algae Bio-plastic

A breakthrough innovation technology to transform algae into bioplastics is developing, which intends to launch a new algae-based resins family. These algae-based resins could replace 50% or more of the petroleum content used in traditional plastic resins. Currently, renewable materials such as starches from corn, wheat, and potatoes, and a grade of PLA are used.

polyethylene glycol peg, Seaweed BioPlastic, algae Kappaphycus alvarezii, (PEG)-3000
Source: Vigyanprasar

The algae research shows promising results, and this new family of algae-based resins will be launched shortly. Algae-based resins offer an outstanding opportunity for manufacturers across the plastic supply chain to do more eco-environmentally sustainable and reduce the industry’s reliance on oil.

Algae can become one of the most important ‘green’ feedstocks for biofuels and bioplastics. Algae are used to minimize the CO² and NOx gases from polluting the smokestack environment. Algae as biomass make sense in that it helps to close the loop on polluting gases and can be a significant renewable resource.

#No6 Bamboo Plastic 

Bamboo’s growth rate is high-speed. It produces an adult tree in a year. The reinforcing fibers are oriented along the bamboo culm. In the connections, the fibers become entangled in a complicated manner to give nodes with isotropic properties that provide additional reinforcement. Bamboo has a unique composition, which resembles that of unidirectional fiber-reinforced compost with many nodes along its length. 

Naturally fast-growing and robust, bamboo fibers can be combined with corn starch or heat pressed to create products, including plates, takeaway cartons, crockery, cups, and straws. Research by the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) represent that bamboo plastic alternatives, if produced well, can be 100% biobased and wholly biodegradable and could play a significant role in the global bioplastics business, producing around 2 million tonnes a year.

The fiber strength of bamboo is about 12 times the matrix strength. Bamboo has high tensile strength (350-900MPa) and low modulus.

Lignin plays the leading role in binding the fibers. Lignin can dissolve in NaOH solution, and these fibers can be extracted easily. The pulping process is classified into mechanical pulping and chemical pulping.

Bamboo plastic composite is essentially bamboo fiber mixed with what we can attribute to commonly as plastic. To help us know this material, we can think about it as being made of two constituent parts:

-Firstly, a bio-based filler or reinforcer. In this case, that filler is bamboo fibers.

-Secondly, a matrix, which we shall define as a substance that engulfs the fibers, holds them all in Place. In this case, the matrix is often an epoxy resin, which can be molded and hardened when set. Epoxies are polymers and, in broader terms, can be classed as plastics.

Bamboo shoots stacked side by side

It is possible to mix the natural bamboo fibers with other natural or synthetic fibers, such as glass fibers, to enhance the material’s specific properties. It is also possible for various types of plastic to be used as a matrix. Often, chemical additives are included to give the composite material desirable properties specific to its intended use case, e.g., durability, stiffness, reaction to heat, etc.

The two constituent parts are typically mixed, and heat and pressure are applied. Chemical reactions take place, and once cured, a strong material with useful properties is formed. Additional chemical agents may be added to aid bonding. Materials that are made in this way are often more broadly referred to as composite materials or fiber-reinforced plastic.

#No7 Mushroom Plant based Plastic

Mushroom packaging utilizes readily available waste like corn husks or stalks to create biodegradable packaging. Mycelium is the root structure of fungus that grows in a pattern of long strands, attaching itself to whatever is available close by, whether soil or, in this case, a specific packaging mold. Within a few days, these fibers bind together — creating a stable and robust material. The American company developed the packaging Ecovative to replace polystyrene, which is very difficult to recycle and can take thousands of years to decompose. In contrast, mycelium packaging can be tossed into the garden, where it will biodegrade naturally within a few months — faster if it’s composted.

Polystyrene — otherwise known as styrofoam — is a massive problem for the environment right now. Developed by Dow Chemical in 1944, it’s still widely used for packing peanuts and coffee cups, as well as fast-food clamshells. It also serves as insulation for buildings. The chemist who invented styrofoam stumbled upon it while seeking an alternative for rubber insulation. Tragically, the material breaks down very slowly and never truly disappears, at least not in our lifetime or that of our children nor grandchildren. When styrofoam does break down, it releases styrene, a known carcinogen.

A healthier alternative for both the environment and humans is found with mycelium packaging. Here’s how the process works:

  1. Agricultural waste like corn stalks are steam-pasteurized and chopped up.
  2. Trace nutrients are added along with a small amount of water.
  3. Mycelium pellets are mixed in, and the mixture is put into a mold shaped like a piece of protective packaging.
  4. The mold is placed on a rack in the dark.
  5. Four days later, the mushroom roots have grown throughout the mold, creating “a material almost indistinguishable from Styrofoam in form, function, and cost.”
  6. Heat is applied to kill the mycelium and halt growth.

Mushroom packaging can be made anywhere, utilizing local waste from agriculture with very little energy. Ecovative ultimately hopes to replace plastics on a global scale.

Product designer Eben Bayer reveals his recipe for a new, fungus-based packaging material that protects fragile stuff like furniture, plasma screens — and the environment.

#No8 Hemp plastic

Hemp cellulose is extracted from the hemp plant and make cellophane, rayon, celluloid, and a variety of plastics. 

Hemp is recognized to hold around 65-70% cellulose. It is acknowledged as a sound source (wood contains approximately 40%, flax 65-75%, and cotton up to 90%) that has special encouragement due to its relative sustainability and low environmental impact.”

plant based plastic, hemp plastic biodegradable, biodegradable hemp plastic, Hemp plastic bottles, hemp bioplastic

Hemp plant-based plastic is the way of the future—become part of the solution by supporting a newer, greener plastic resin supply alternative.

Biodegradable Hemp plant based plastic is non-toxic. It is also much more robust than conventional plastic.

Cotton utilizes 50% more water than the hemp crop to grow. It also applies up to 25% of the world’s pesticides. Hemp biofuel – 86% more greener than gasoline and can be used in current vehicles. One acre of hemp yields as much paper as 4 acres of trees in one developing season (~100 days)

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Vihaan Nagal

संवेष्टन अभियान्ता | Packaging Engineer | Verpackung Ingenieur *Free time blogger *Believe in packaging reform (say naa to orthodox packaging) My life lies between degradable and non-degradable material.

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