Whether you are looking for more sustainable fabrics for your wardrobe or an environmentally friendly alternative to petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics or bio-based plastics are an amazing option.
Also known as biopolymers, or bio-synthetics, bioplastics are manufactured fibers made from biological sources such as sugarcane, seaweed, starch, plant oils, or agricultural wastes. They are mostly biodegradable.
Bio-based plastics help lower the carbon and water footprint of the clothes in our closet. They are renewable alternatives to fossil-based synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic.
They allow fashion brands and designers to create beautiful, stylish, and functional clothing that doesn't contribute to plastic waste and microfiber pollution.
The fashion industry is one of the largest polluters globally. It's responsible for huge textile waste, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, water, and energy consumption.
It's time to pay more attention to what our clothes are made of and change the way we produce and consume clothes. We need to take massive action to reduce our environmental impact.
Let's take a closer look at the advantages of bioplastic for the fashion industry, people, animals, and the planet.
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Making the industry bio-based
One way to transform the global textile and apparel industry for the better is to choose materials made from natural and organic sources such as bioplastics.
Using recycled materials such as recycled polyester or regenerated nylon already limits waste and is a step in the right direction. But it's not nearly enough to reduce the global plastic waste crisis that affects the ocean and human health.
Regenerated nylon is usually manufactured from post-industrial wastes, such as fabric scraps, carpet flooring, fishing nets, and industrial plastics.
Recycled polyester, also known as rPET, is generally made of PET plastic bottles or industrial polyester waste.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation reports that less than 1% of all textile waste is recycled into new clothes globally. Why is that?
Clothing fabrics and other textile made with plastics are often blends of different materials such as elastane or spandex, with nylon, and/or polyester.
The recycling of synthetic material blends is difficult, not profitable, even impossible in some cases.
And recycling plastics can be damaging to the environment. It requires a lot of chemicals, energy, and water. A more sustainable way to manage textile waste is upcycling.
Recycled synthetic fabrics also contribute to plastic microfiber pollution. They aren't biodegradable and take up to thousands of years to decompose. Most of them aren't infinitely recyclable either.
Every year, more than 300 million tons of plastic are produced globally, as reported by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
And 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean. The equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic is leaking into our oceans every minute of every day of the year. Less than 10% of all plastic is recycled.
Even washing recycled plastic clothes at home releases microfibers into waterways that threaten marine life, and human health.
Drinking polluted water and eating seafood contaminated by plastics exposes people to harmful pollutants.
Workers in garment factories, wastewater treatment facilities, cruise ships, and fish farming industries are particularly threatened by plastic pollution.
It's time to consider sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based plastics such as biobased plastics.
As the future availability and stability of oil deteriorate, biobased plastics are bound to become more popular, especially in the fashion industry.
However, a lot of innovation, technology advancements, and infrastructure developments are required to make the whole plastic industry entirely biobased, circular, and regenerative.
Luckily, the interest in bio-synthetics is growing among conscious consumers and key players in the apparel and footwear industry. Fashion can become more sustainable with a few more investments in biobased plastics.
Some innovative companies making sustainable fibers from renewable plant-based materials are:
- Carnegie making biobased Xorel from sugarcane
- Fulgar making hi-tech yarn Evo from castor bean and oil
- Mango Materials making bio-polyester YOPP PHA from bacteria
- GREY Fashion making innovative Vitadylan from algae
Bioplastics made from renewable resources can be biodegradable. It depends on the raw material, chemical structure, production processes, and treatments.
Biodegradable bioplastics are biobased, usually made of food waste or other renewable carbon resources such as corn, potatoes, rice, soy, sugarcane, wheat, vegetable oil, seaweed, starch, and other agricultural wastes.
Biodegradable bioplastics are also known as compostable bioplastics. They are already widely used as single-use packaging, food waste collection bags, or food service ware.
They are promoted for composting at the end-of-life and help divert waste from disposal in landfills and incinerators.
The terms “biodegradable” and “compostable” are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Not all bioplastics are biodegradable and/or compostable. But most of them are when made from renewable resources.
Biodegradable bioplastics take a few days up to six months to decompose fully, according to recent research, which is much faster than fossil materials. How long degradation takes depends on a lot of environmental conditions, such as humidity and temperature.
Bioplastics degradation happens naturally with the help of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and algae. They create water, carbon dioxide, methane, biomass, and inorganic compounds as they decompose.
Biodegradable bioplastics have the advantages of:
- Conserving fossil fuel reserves, such as oil and natural gas
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change
- Decreasing the amount of waste going to disposal
To learn more about bioplastics, visit:
- The Plastic Industry Association
- The United States Composting Council’s Compostable Plastic Toolkit
- The Biodegradable Products Institute
- ASTM International
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About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.