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Bioplastics: a clean alternative?

6 episodes
  • 1
    Bioplastics industry: the basics
  • 2
    Bio-based plastics: a brief history
  • 3
    Bioplastics won't replace recycling
  • 4
    Are bioplastics toxic?
  • 5
    Can waste be turned into bioplastics?
  • 6
    The stakes of producing bioplastics on an industrial scale
Épisode 1/6
Analysis
James Bowers, Chief editor at Polytechnique Insights
On February 2nd, 2021
4 mins reading time
James Bowers
James Bowers
Chief editor at Polytechnique Insights

Key takeaways

  • Bioplastics occupy 2% of the global plastic market, with an estimated 16% annual growth rate.
  • Industry has long focused on conventional, fossil fuel-based plastics as they were cheap and readily available.
  • Pressure from consumers along with EU regulations have pushed industrials to seek greener alternatives to conventional plastics.
  • Bioplastics are either biodegradable or produced from biomass with low carbon emissions – or both.
  • The market is a combination of small niches; there are challenges ahead if the sector is to continue growth.
Épisode 2/6
Interview
Richard Robert, Journalist and Author
On February 2nd, 2021
3 mins reading time
Jean-Luc Dubois
Jean-Luc Dubois
Scientific director at Arkema

Key takeaways

  • Although plastics have traditionally been made from petrochemicals, manufacturers have been producing bioplastics since the early 20th century as well.
  • Polyamide-11, or “Nylon 11”, is made from castor oil and has been sold in France since 1945. However, it is still more expensive than fossil fuel-based polyamide-6.
  • The chemical processes used to make biological, oil-based polymers are well known. Nowadays, castor and soybean oil can be used to make bioplastics.
  • However, all aspects must be taken into account, especially issues related to biodegradability (which is not always a given) and recycling.
Épisode 3/6
Interview
Richard Robert, Journalist and Author
On February 2nd, 2021
4 mins reading time
Olivier Jan
Olivier Jan
Central Europe sustainability lead partner at Deloitte
Erwan Harscoët
Erwan Harscoët
Director in sustainability practice at Deloitte

Key takeaways

  • Businesses are under pressure from consumers and stakeholders (NGOs, governments, etc.) to reduce environmental impact and limit greenhouse gas emissions.
  • To meet these demands requires analysis product life cycles (start and end) if companies wish to truly manage their environmental footprint.
  • Using bio-based materials can solve some of these problems, but the end-of-life phase for a product is still critical. As such, product biodegradability remains a major factor.
  • Optimal management of bioplastics requires a multi-sector approach and a good understanding of the challenges presented by the manufacturing industry, recycling channels and biodegradability.
Épisode 4/6
Pure research
James Bowers, Chief editor at Polytechnique Insights
On February 2nd, 2021
3 mins reading time
Lisa Zimmermann
Lisa Zimmermann
PhD student in biology at Goethe University

Key takeaways

  • In 2019, biologist Lisa Zimmermann published findings which indicate that 67% of consumer items made of petroleum-based plastics contain chemicals with at least some level of toxicity.
  • Her most recent study found that 67% of the 43 bioplastic and plant-based products she tested contained chemicals that demonstrate ‘baseline toxicity’.
  • Lisa concludes that toxicity of bioplastics and plant-based materials matches that of conventional petroleum-based plastics.
Épisode 5/6
Pure research
Richard Robert, Journalist and Author
On February 2nd, 2021
3 mins reading time
Grégory Nocton
Grégory Nocton
CNRS Research fellow in synthetic chemistry at École polytechnique (IP Paris)
Grégory Danoun
Grégory Danoun
CNRS Research fellow in synthetic chemistry at École polytechnique (IP Paris)

Key takeaways

  • Synthetic chemists Grégory Nocton and Grégory Danoun are developing new techniques for creating polymers from waste.
  • By isolating the basic building blocks of almost any substance, their current goal is to identify the best synthetic processes for producing these new materials.
  • They opted for waste as a sustainable resource that does not create competition with other processes.
  • The aim is to develop a range of solutions, so as not to be shackled to one, as with petroleum.
Épisode 6/6
Interview
Richard Robert, Journalist and Author
On February 2nd, 2021
3 mins reading time
Patrick Pinenq
Patrick Pinenq
market development manager in biopolymers at Total
Dimitri Rousseaux
Dimitri Rousseaux
Researcher in materials science at Total

Key takeaways

  • Each year, 360,000 kT of plastic is produced globally. Bioplastics still seek their place at industrial scales.
  • Total is turning its attention to plentiful raw materials, such as vegetable oils, starch and sugar cane.
  • With its two factories, in France and Thailand, Total will soon be able to produce 175kT of PLA annually.
  • Total believes that these changes must be part of a broader environmental vision that includes life cycle analysis and plastic recycling.

Contributors

James Bowers

James Bowers

Chief editor at Polytechnique Insights

James Bowers has a PhD in molecular biology from the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle and an MSc in Science Media Production from Imperial College London. He has six years of experience creating engaging scientific media in digital, TV and other outlets in the UK and France. Most recently, James worked as a science communication consultant and trainer for a French agency, Agent Majeur, for three years where he co-authored the book, Sell Your Research: Public Speaking for Scientists published by Springer.