The environmental dangers of petroleum plastic is not limited to how they persist in the world after use. Despite more recent efforts and a collective understanding that we should be recycling and reusing more, the impact of how they’re made still exists. As the impact of fossil fuels becomes more visible and felt, there’s been a movement towards collaborating and harnessing nature; instead developing biobased materials, the production of which is far less harmful. We believe that biology should underpin all thinking, which is why we’ve created our own bio-based material that mimics natural processes and has the ability to biodegrade, leaving behind zero harmful microplastics.
What are bio-based materials?
Bio-based materials refer to materials that are intentionally derived from renewable biological resources . Examples of bio-based materials you might encounter in daily life include packaging pellets made of corn starch , or cellulose fibres used in paper or cotton production. Natural materials aren’t all necessarily bio-based materials – bio-based usually refers to a material that has undergone a more extensive process than traditional materials like, for example, wood products, but might include a material that has transformed wood to give it different properties or applications.
Not all bio-based materials are ‘honest’ – this means that they might be made up of both biological material and fossil material. Bio-PET – a plastic which is made up of roughly 30% plant-based material – is an example of this. Mixing biomass with petroleum plastics is not a circular approach because it perpetuates the production of petroleum plastic. Bio-based plastics containing petroleum plastics its end of life will remain the same as a normal plastic, resulting in microplastic generation.
What’s the difference between renewable and non-renewable?
Bio-based materials are renewable in nature, whereas fossil-based materials are non-renewable material resources.
A renewable resource can be replenished and is part of the Earth’s natural environment. Renewable material resources include plant derived resources, such as bamboo and hemp, as well as microorganism derived resources, like microorganisms or algae. These renewable resources use biogenic carbon, meaning carbon already in circulation in nature’s atmospheric carbon cycle. Non-renewable materials, such as fossil-based petroleum plastics, use non-renewable fossil carbon that contributes to climate change because carbon that was previously sequestered in the earth’s crust is released into the atmosphere.
Non-renewable resources (otherwise known as finite resources) are limited in supply and cannot be easily replaced at the pace needed to keep up with consumption. The main types of non-renewable resources are oil, natural gas, coal (collectively, these are described as fossil fuels). Since the advent of the industrial revolution, global society has become hugely reliant on non-renewable resources. For example, around 80 percent of the total amount of energy used globally each year comes from fossil fuels. But, the environmental impact of fossil fuels has reached a tipping point as the burning of fossil fuels releases an excess of carbon dioxide (a major greenhouse gas) into the air, trapping heat in the atmosphere and contributing to global warming.
The key difference between using fossil fuels and its derivative products and bio-derived materials is the type of carbon that is released during its production and disposal. The use of non-renewable resources releases carbon that has been sequestered in the ground for millions of years (because that’s how long it takes to replenish), whereas the use of renewable bio-materials releases biogenic carbon that’s part of the earth’s natural carbon cycle. While fossil fuels increase the total atmospheric carbon in the air by releasing carbon previously sequestered in the earth for long term carbon storage, biogenic carbon returns the carbon that was sequestered in short term biomass storage during the growing process to the atmosphere, to be reabsorbed by vegetation growth.
How can bio-based materials help the climate crisis?
Global expectations are shifting to favour sustainable product options as brands and consumers alike are taking on greater responsibility to mitigate the impacts of the growing climate crisis.
One of the main benefits of bio-based materials is the circular aspect of their end of life pathways. Materials that are derived from natural elements – like our Vivomer material which is made with the same microbes that naturally occur in marine and soil environments – have the ability to biodegrade. The use of bio-based materials that are wholly renewable, biodegradable, and microplastic-free has a far lower impact on the environment, and is a critical step towards tackling the plastic waste problem.
Ultimately, it is essential that more bio-based materials continue to be implemented into product design in order to effectively phase out petroleum-based materials. We like to say that “Nature is the best creator”and, with technical advancements and material innovations, we’re equipped with the resources to collaborate with nature and make better, regenerative, and circular products.
National Geographic. (n.d.-a). Nonrenewable resources. National Geographic. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/nonrenewable-resources/