Claims such as “compostable” and “biodegradable” are not necessarily best for the environment

By Michael Søgaard Jørgensen, Associate Professor in environmental innovation and sustainable transition, Aalborg University, Copenhagen.

This expert article is written by Michael Søgaard Jørgensen, Associate Professor of environmental innovation and sustainable transition at Aalborg University’s Department of Planning in Copenhagen. Michael Søgaard Jørgensen has a background in chemical engineering and a PhD in technological assessment. With his many years of experience, and in his role as vice-president for IDA Green Technology, Michael Søgaard Jørgensen is recognized for his knowledge in environmental innovation and circular economy.

This publication addresses compostable bioplastics in particular, and therefore does not cover all types of bioplastics. If you are interested in finding out more about the different types of bioplastic bags, you can read more here, as it is important to distinguish between types when it comes to environmental impact and effects.

Recently, a number of businesses have been introducing bioplastic products. Bioplastic products are presented as an alternative to what can be called “conventional” or “traditional” plastic made from non-renewable fossil resources in the form of oil and natural gas, and which further contribute to environmental damage when the product is incinerated after use. Moreover, a number of cardboard products and cardboard-bioplastic blends have also been introduced alongside claims such as “compostable” and “biodegradable.”

As a business or as a consumer, it is important to take care not to be misled by prefixes such as “bio” and words such as “compostable” and “biodegradable”, believing that this means the material or product is therefore sustainable and has no environmental impact. In the following, we provide an introduction to some of the concepts and evaluation methods for bio-based materials.

Bioplastic – from plants or plant waste?

Bioplastic can be produced using material from

  • Plants containing sugar, such as sugar cane, sugar beet, bamboo, corn and other cereal grains.
  • Raw materials containing lignocellulose, such as wood

There are a number of diff