What is the difference between biobased and biodegradable? What is a carbon footprint or a life cycle assessment? There are many new terms in the context of sustainability. To keep track of them, we have compiled a short overview with the most important definitions.
Definition: Allocation Factor
The value chain of products in the chemical industry is often very complex. In order to be able to track the sustainable material flow in a simple way, the mass balance approach is used.
We use the allocation factor to show how much biomass and/or recycled material is allocated to the certified product. The allocation factor indicates the proportion of fossil resources that have been replaced by biomass and/or recyclate in the value chain of the material. It is given as a percentage (max. 100%) and refers to the organic share of the product. The correctness of the allocation is confirmed by ISCC PLUS or REDcert² certification.
The principle behind this is the same as for green electricity: The consumer does not know whether the electricity from his socket is generated directly from renewable energies. However, the electricity provider is obliged to feed the corresponding amount into the power grid. Overall, this increases the amount of green electricity. Similarly, the use of sustainable materials is increasing in the chemical industry. The graphic illustrates the mass balance approach.
Definition: Biobased Polymers
Polymers derived in total or in part from biomass. These include polymers,
- that have been synthesized directly from living organisms (plants, seaweeds, etc.) (e.g. starch)
- whose original feedstock comes from agriculture and has been further processed by (bio)chemical processes (e.g. castor oil to biobased polyamides).
The biobased content, or to be more precise, the biobased carbon content, of a material can be verified by chemical analysis (radiocarbon method).
Definition: Biodegradable Polymers
Biodegradable polymers can be converted into CO2, water and biomass by microorganisms (e.g. fungi or bacteria). This depends only on their chemical structure, but not on the feedstock (biobased or fossil). Biodegradability is strongly influenced by the environment: temperature, microorganisms, duration of exposure, aerobic/anaerobic. There are different standards, labels and certification systems for different environmental conditions (e.g. industrial compost, home compost, soil, marine water and fresh water). Biodegradable polymers are mostly used for short-live products.
In the bioeconomy, renewable, biological raw materials (biomass) are used to produce value-added products. These include food and feed, biobased consumer products, or bioenergy. For consumer products made from biomass, the following sustainable benefits arise:
- Reduces the dependence on fossil, limited resources
- Potential to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions
Plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow and convert it to biomass. At the end of life of a 100% biobased product, these CO2emissions are released (e.g. through waste incineration), which were previously removed from the atmosphere. In contrast, petroleum serves as a feedstock for fossil-based materials. Crude oil, which is already many millions of years old, is extracted from the depths of the earth and has bound a large amount of CO2 in the form of hydrocarbon chains. So at the end of life of fossil-based products, additional CO2 emissions are released into the atmosphere, adding to the climate crisis.
The carbon footprint of biobased products is therefore reduced by the stored biogenic carbon of the product. As a result, the carbon footprint can be lower than the value of the fossil-based variant.
Biomass is a material from biological sources, e.g. plants, trees, crops, seaweed or microorganisms. It therefore does not come from fossil sources.
Definition: Biomass-balanced and recycling mass-balanced
- ISCC PLUS or REDcert² certified materials are mass balanced materials. This means they save fossil raw materials by using sustainable raw materials in the value chain.
- The term biomass-balanced refers to the use of biomass at the beginning of the value chain. Similarly, recycled-mass-balanced materials use recycled, fossil-based raw material sources.
Definition: Biopolymers, Bioplastics & Biocompounds
Biopolymers can be divided into three categories:
- Biobased polymers that are not biodegradable ► BIO-FED & AKRO-PLASTIC
- Biopolymers that are petrochemically produced but biodegradable ► BIO-FED
- Biobased polymers that are biodegradable ► BIO-FED
Biopolymers can be made of carbohydrate-rich plants such as corn, sugar cane or sugar beet – so-called crops or first generation feedstock. First generation feedstock is currently the most efficient for the production of bioplastics, as it requires the least amount of land to grow and produces the highest yields.
Biopolymers are the base ingredients for bioplastics/biocompounds. In this matter the different kind of biopolymers are mixed with fillers, additives, etc. to archive certain properties. This process is called compounding.
The carbon footprint (abbreviated CFP) of products indicates how much greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are caused in total by a specific product (goods or services). It therefore describes the impact on the climate. As a synonym, the term CO2 footprint is also used in Germany. Different life cycle phases can be considered, e.g. cradle-to-gate or cradle-to-grave.
A cradle-to-gate approach is also referred to as a partial CFP, since the balance does not take the entire life cycle into account, as is the case with the cradle-to-grave approach. The CFP is given in CO2 equivalents and is always related to a specific application, e.g. x% CO2eq for the production of 1 kg of compounded plastic granulate.
There are various standards for balancing the CFP, including ISO 14067, GHG Protocol or PAS 2050.
Definition: Certifications for Bioplastics
Certification is a process in which materials undergo some tests in order to verify that they fulfil certain requirements. Claims about biodegradability and compostability are widely used to label products and packaging regarding their end-of-life. Biodegradation can take place in different systems (industrial or home composting) and environments (soil, water). Find more info at Certifications for Bioplastics.
Definition: Circular Economy
The Circular Economy is about reusing materials with the aim of reducing waste and therefore emissions. For example, waste from industry or consumers is reprocessed (recycled) to make new products. A typical example is the collection of PET deposit bottles, which are reprocessed into plastic pellets. The Circular Economy is considered sustainable by
- the avoidance/reduction of waste
- the saving of fossil resources
- the potential to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG):
In general, the mechanical recycling of plastics causes less GHG emissions than the production of a virgin plastic. This is due, among other things, to lower energy consumption and the shorter process chains.
Organisms such as plants and animals whose genetic material (DNA) has been altered are called genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Definition: Green Deal
The EU Green Deal is the EU's political commitment (2019) to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 and to become the first continent to become climate neutral (55% reduction by 2030 compared to 1990).
There are three categories of feedstock for the production of bioplastics:
- First generation feedstock: See Biopolymers, Bioplastics & Biocompounds
- Second generation feedstock refers to feedstock not suitable for food or feed production. It can be either non-food crops (e.g. cellulose) or waste materials from 1st generation feedstock (e.g. waste vegetable oil).
- The term third generation feedstock refers to biomass derived from algae, which has a higher growth yield than either 1st and 2nd generation feedstock, and therefore has been allocated their own category.
Definition: ISCC PLUS and REDcert²
Two leading certification systems for sustainable materials in the chemical industry. Biomass and fossil-based recyclates are used as raw material sources to produce biomass-balanced or recycled-mass-balanced products. Among other things, fossil resources are saved and attention is paid to ecologically and socially sustainable aspects when growing the biomass. More detailed information can be found here ISCC PLUS and REDcert².
A life cycle assessment involves considering a variety of environmental impacts of a product. These environmental impacts may include: Acidification of soils, toxicity to humans, depletion of the ozone layer, land, water and resource consumption. A life cycle assessment typically includes a climate impact assessment, or carbon footprint. Well-known standards for balancing are, for example, the ISO standards 14040/14044.
The environmental impact of a product can be assessed with the help of the LCA. The CFP alone is less suitable for this purpose, as it only describes one environmental impact, albeit the most important one at present. At the same time, the LCA is significantly more costly and complex than the balancing of a CFP.
Definition: Mass Balance Approach
A method to track and certify in a simple way the material flow of biomass/recycled material. It is used within sustainability certification schemes, such as ISCC PLUS and REDcert². More detailed information can be found here: ISCC PLUS and REDcert²
Definition: Organic, Circular & Bio-Circular
The terms come from the ISCC PLUS certification. They denote different categories of raw materials:
- Organic: Material that uses virgin agricultural raw materials (e.g. sugar cane, corn, etc.) at the beginning of the value chain
- Bio-Circular: Material that uses bio-based waste materials (e.g., grease and oil waste) at the beginning of the value chain
- Circular: Material that uses recycled, fossil-based raw materials (e.g., recycled plastic) at the beginning of the value chain
According to the standard DIN EN ISO 14021, recyclate is a recycled material which has been processed from waste to an (intermediate) product. A distinction is made between post-industrial and post-consumer waste:
- Post-Industrial = waste before use, i.e that is generated as waste during production, e.g. start-up lumps, sprues, etc., and is returned to the production process. This does not include the reuse of scrap materials that are reused in the same process.
- Post-consumer recyclate (PCR) = waste after use, i.e. it concerns materials from end consumers, e.g. from households, which can no longer be used for the intended purpose (example: packaging).
Definition: Standards for Bioplastics
Following European Norms (EN) are defined to give a transparency and accountability towards the market about the properties of the bioplastics:
- EN 13432: “Requirements for packaging recoverable through composting and biodegradation”, equivalent to ASTM D6400
- EN 17033: “Biodegradable mulch films for use in agriculture and horticulture – Requirements and test methods”
- EN 16640: „Bio-based products – Determination of the bio-based carbon content of products using the radiocarbon method“
The United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda on September 25, 2015, which includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by all UN member states between 2016 and 2030. The Sustainable Development Goals represent a global plan to promote sustainable prosperity and peace and to protect our planet.
As a manufacturing company and member of a successful, globally active group of companies, AKRO-PLASTIC and its branches see it as its duty to contribute to the fulfillment of these goals. Read more about this here.
In the past: Sustainability means to cut only as much forest as will grow back again. (Definition according to Hans Carl von Carlowitz, 1713)
Today: The goal is to leave an intact world to future generations through economical, responsible use of the available global resources (e.g. oil, fish and forest stocks, CO2 budget, etc.). To achieve this, social, ecological and economic aspects must be given equal attention.