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Brief Published: 10 Nov 2020

Are Bioplastics Safer than Conventional Plastics?

Are Bioplastics Safer than Conventional Plastics?

The global revolution against plastic pollution has prompted a shift towards better material solutions. While bioplastics – often perceived as positive – have been gaining ground, their actual eco credentials remain unclear. A new study brings some clarity, by outlining the toxicity of bio-based and biodegradable plastics.

The report by Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, shows that bioplastics are no safer ecologically than conventional plastics, in terms of toxicity and chemical composition in vitro. Of the 43 different bio-based plastic products investigated (including disposable cutlery, packaging paper, drinks bottles and wine corks), 80% contained more than 1,000 different chemicals, with some containing as many as 20,000. The team also found that cellulose- and starch-based products contained the most chemicals.   

According to the study, these substances can be directly toxic to living cells (when in the lab), or can act as hormones that subsequently disturb the human body’s balance.

While the report isn’t conclusive on the overall benefits or drawbacks of bioplastics, it does highlight the need for more focus on chemical safety and human health when designing ‘better’ material alternatives – factors that will be considerably relevant in the post-pandemic era. 

Spurred by growing waste streams and new standards, post-consumer plastic waste – used as an alternative to ‘new’ or virgin materials – is gaining traction with numerous brands and creatives. We explore this further in our Materials Evolution: A/W 22/23

For more on the current and future plastic landscape, see Resetting Plastics: Updates & Innovations and New Rules for Post-Covid Packaging