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A glossary of terms

A glossary of terms and concepts

A glossary of terms and concepts

Biodegradable are materials which can be naturally degraded by biological mechanisms into carbon dioxide, water and/or methane, thus entering the carbon cycle and leaving no trace in the environment.

Biodisintegration is the process where the material is gradually disintegrated to smaller pieces due to biological action. It is different from biodegradability, because disintegrated macroscopical or microscopical pieces are yet not transformed into water and gas.

Biomass is any material from living organisms (e.g. plant, animal, fungal, algae or microbial origin) which can be used in industrial processes as raw substance.

Bioplastics are plastics which are made from renewable resources, as opposed to conventional plastics made up from fossil-fuel finite reserves. Plastics which naturally biodegrade in nature (biodegradable plastics) are also considered bioplastics.

Biopolymers are natural biomolecules produced by living organisms composed of repetitive monomeric units, covalently bound to form larger molecules. Proteins and DNA are biopolymers made up of, respectively, aminoacids and nucleotides. Biopolymers are natural polymers which could be used for packaging purposes.

Biorefinery is the sustainable processing of biomass into a spectrum of biobased products (food, feed, chemicals, materials) and bioenergy (biofuels, power and/or heat). It is born as opposed to the petrol refinery, where energy, fuel, chemicals and plastics are derived from petrol resources.

Circular Economy is an organization, economic management and strategy aimed at reducing both the exploitation of virgin or finite resources and the production of waste by closing the economic and ecological fluxes of these resources.

Compostable means it can be decomposed by a composting process, a form of waste disposal where organic waste decomposes naturally into soil. Less than 1% of all plastic packaging is biodegradable and even a smaller part is home compostable.

Eco-sustainable According to the UN, sustainable is the wide scope of issues and activities that are aimed at not compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Eco-sustainable entails the same concept, but linked more directly to the preservation of the environment.

EcoFriendly is a very generic term to indicate reduced damage to the environment.

Green Materials is a term that relates to polymers and materials with an emphasis on reducing the use of hazardous substances in their design, manufacture and application.

Lignocelullosic biomass is the natural biomass from plant matter. It is the most abundantly available raw material on earth, composed of cellulose and lignin. All forms of vegetation (e.g. forests) or agricultural crops can be sources of lignocellulosic biomass.

Renewable resources are natural resources which are restored by nature or human action at a faster rate than they are consumed. For example, solar radiation and winds are renewable energy resources. Lignocellulosic biomass from forests, oceans or agricultural crops is a renewable source of materials and a platform for chemicals, and can also produce energy.

Recyclable materials are those that can be reprocessed after disposal to produce a new material. Recycling needs efficient collection and sorting, which are difficult due to the variety of the different plastics. Practically, only a very small fraction of all plastics can be recycled into a product similar to the starting material.

Thermoplastic starch is a family of bioplastics made from starch, which is derived from potato, corn, etc.. Starch is turned into ductile bioplastics with the addition of water, natural plasticizers, simple chemical modifications, additives or blending with other biopolymers. The main market application is plastic bags in supermarkets.

Polybutylene adipate terephtalate or PBAT is a copolymer of a petrol-based biodegradable polymer, polybutylene succinate (PBS) and conventional PET. The use of PBAT has grown in the last two years, due to its ductility and higher resistance compared to thermoplastic starch. However, PET (around 10%) is not biodegradable and PBS is produced from petrol.

Polylactic acid or PLA is a bioplastic made by polymerization of lactic acid, which is commonly produced from corn or other molasses through fermentation. PLA is 100% bio-based and 100% biodegradable. Its drawbacks are poor thermal stability and brittleness. A common use in the market is for single-use glasses, cups or cutlery.

Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) are bioplymers produced by some bacteria. These bacteria can be grown with various food by-products and the bioplastic separated and purified. It is 100% bio-based, 100% biodegradable. Its brittleness and high production cost limits its presence on the market.

A quick question at the end of this glossary:

How many people do you think know these terms and use them correctly?

10% 30% 70%

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Consumer and Environmental Safety: Food Packaging and Kitchenware

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