a beginner's guide to bioplastic

bioplastic vs. traditional plastic, bio-based vs. biodegradable, and more!

At cocokind, we’re proud to make our squeezable tubes (which house our oil to milk cleanser, one-for-all balm, and turmeric tonic!) out of sugarcane-based bioplastic. It’s a great alternative to traditional plastic, which is derived from fossil fuels like petroleum. The production of fossil fuel-derived plastic creates much greater carbon emissions than the production of bioplastic, and the fossil fuels themselves are a non-renewable resource.

Due to these factors, we prefer bioplastic to fossil fuel-derived plastic. But what exactly is bioplastic? Is it a 100% sustainable packaging option? What are the advantages of using it and what are the drawbacks? Let’s dive in. 

what is bioplastic? 

By definition, bioplastic must be one of the following: 

1) made out of renewable, bio-based resources 

2) biodegradable 

3) or both!

bio-based

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition defines “bio-based” as “materials wholly or partly derived from biomass, such as plants, trees, or animals.” Almost any plant-based sugar can be used to produce bio-based plastic. 

The term “bio-based” refers solely to what the plastic is made of at the beginning of its life, NOT necessarily what happens at the end of it. Plastic made out of bio-based materials can still be non-biodegradable, non-compostable, or both (we’ll get into this later). 

The creation of bio-based plastic requires fewer greenhouse gas emissions and less fossil fuel consumption than the creation of traditional plastic. But on the other hand, the production of bioplastic usually requires higher water usage, since you’re introducing an agricultural element into the supply chain.

biodegradable

SPC defines a biodegradable material as having, “the ability to break down, safely and relatively quickly, by biological means, into the raw materials of nature.” This term refers to what happens at the end of a material’s life, instead of the beginning. A great example of this is PBAT (polybutylene adipate terephthalat), which is the plastic typically used to make compost bags. This material is derived from fossil fuels, but is completely biodegradable. 

It’s also important to note that bio-based ≠ biodegradable, although there are some plastics with both characteristics. 

Additionally, biodegradable ≠ compostable. For a material to be compostable, it must be able to completely break down at a speed comparable to that of other compostable materials - usually, 180 days. There is no required time frame for a material to break down in order to be considered biodegradable. All compostable materials are biodegradable, but all biodegradable materials are not compostable. 

And fun fact: compostability is completely binary - a material is either 100% compostable or not compostable at all!

our sugarcane tubes

Now let’s bring this back to cocokind. Our sugarcane tubes are bio-based but not biodegradable. They are made out of sugarcane, which is a renewable, plant-based material. They are also 100% recyclable, although not biodegradable. 

In the future, we’d love to transition into using packaging that is bio-based and biodegradable. We’re also in the process of testing compostable film on an unreleased product that we can’t wait to share with you guys. As always, our motto here is sustainability in progress, and we’re so happy to have our community along with us as we continually work to become more and more earth-friendly.

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