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Confusion about terminology and definitions for bio-based and biodegradable plastics


CTO at Avantium and Professor of Industrial Sustainable Chemistry at the University of Amsterdam

Citizens (consumers) are confused. The general public assumes that bio-based polymers are biodegradable and because biodegradability is considered a positive attribute, this confusion is often cherished, rather than clarified. Is a compostable plastic biodegradable? Why does the answer to this question depend on which definition we use? We can explain why there are different standards in different countries and why are there often even regional or local differences for disposal of degradable packaging waste but why are there different definitions? Why do international organizations come up with definitions that are scientifically nonsense such as calling fossil-based biodegradable polymers biopolymers? At a recent conference I heard someone suggest in his plenary lecture to use the terms “plastics” and “polymers” to differentiate between fossil-based and bio-based plastics, respectively. While I do have sympathy for using a different term than plastics for bio-based families, we cannot redefine a term such as polymer which has a clear (scientific) definition already.

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