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Detox Design Dialogues:  Circularity in Practice! 

Bioplastics do not exist? Yes, they do exist and here is why!

“Bioplastics do not exist”, has become a popular notion. Designer Verena Michels says: “Let’s refocus the public debate! There are different types of bioplastics. And some are indeed circular”.  by Christian Busch

Misleading claims on bioplastics


Just recently a book has caught our attention: “Climate-friendly from A-Z”. It rates the climate impact of commodities, and it also briefly talks about bioplastics.


Indeed, the book contains a lot of crisp messages. However, at least one of those is too simplistic to my liking and misleading: “Bioplastics do not exist”.


I was curious to know as to whether media outlets amplified this claim. A quick Google search shows that Blick, a newspaper in Switzerland, did so.

Bioplastics in the fashion industry


Yes, regardless of the mentioned publications, I frequently come across similar resentments. Often it evokes a feeling of “material cancel culture” to me, because I am missing a balanced debate. Of course, bioplastics exist, but we have to talk about the term itself. There are four different categories  and all of them have different characteristics. Weather Underground has a focus only on biobased and biodegradable plastics - especially those which have been used exclusively in the agricultural sector so far.

From my personal point of view, and for the fashion sector, I find plant-based materials relevant and wish their potential can fully unfold in the future. In my use case for sophisticated, sustainable rainwear, the absence of toxic additives is relevant, since customers are wearing my product, CAPEBAG, on their skin. 

I focus on 100% compostable plastics. That is why I decided to use bioplastic sheets which have been available in the agricultural sector for a while now. Adopting an existing material and transferring it to the fashion sector - with customised parameters and thereby enhanced performance - reflects my approach on sustainable innovation. Also from a cost-efficient point of view, I was happy to adapt compostable sheets from the bio farming sector. The material has already been tested and certified by TÜV Austria.

Decomposition of bioplastics


What do you think is the greatest concern about bioplastics?


I often hear that bioplastics -in general- would not decompose very well. In fact, one cannot say this about all types of bioplastics. Some materials are biobased, but not biodegradable and not even meant to be. Others are proven to be compostable under certified conditions. Some do really break down in water!  It always depends on the application. In the case of compostable, waterproof rainwear, it would not make sense to work with a material which is certified to biodegrade in water, would it? I use a material which decomposes within 12 weeks in an industrial compost system. Moreover, it takes under a year for decomposition in soil (according to TÜV Austria, and in line with European regulations). 

Bioplastics exist in different shapes, with varying parameters, and certificates. Some are sourced locally, others shipped from far away. I think that the public discussion should focus more on the point of how we define bioplastics and which durable, yet biodegradable product innovations can arise and make day-to-day life pleasant and practical.