Facts about polythene film usage
Harnessing the potential of biopolymers

The new generation of biopolymers (i.e. polymerised corn, maize and potato starch) has been greeted as an environmentally-sustainable alternative to the fossil fuelbased polymers traditionally used in the production of plastic packaging. However, whilst the development of these biopolymers is interesting and welcome, it is important not to get too carried away by the environmental arguments.

  • Renewable resource materials (e.g. those derived from corn, maize and potatoes) may offer an important alternative to some oil-based plastics in the medium term. However for a true comparison of the environmental benefits offered a number of additional factors have to be considered. This includes the sustainability of the renewable material’s production (e.g. the effect of any fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides used) and any incumbent emissions or environmental damage arising from the material’s transportation and production/processing. Essentially, the assumption that a plant-based substitute has a zero footprint is erroneous.
  • Polyethylene is made from naphtha gas. This substance would exist irrespective of whether it is used in plastic packaging or not as it is one of a number of by-products naturally created when crude oil is distilled for use as petroleum.
  • Only 3% of the world’s supply of oil is actually used to make plastic packaging whilst 90% is used to produce fuel and to generate electricity to heat homes.

BPI anticipates biopolymers playing an increasingly important role alongside traditional polymers over the next few years for certain packaging applications. In the long term, we are confident that the current limitations on their technical performance as well as their high cost of production will certainly become less of a constraint as greater demand drives further development and improved economies of scale.