Technological watch

Land-use change and valorisation of feedstock side-streams determine the climate mitigation potential of bioplastics

Globally, governments have increased their commitment to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. At the same time, the compostable bioplastic market is growing rapidly as many single-use petrochemical plastics are being banned internationally. A prospective consequential life cycle assessment approach was conducted to quantify the environmental envelopes of compostable bioplastic production for the bioplastic value chains to operate within the bounds of climate neutrality. Four indicative feedstocks of (i) lignocellulosic biomass from forestry, (ii) maize biomass, (iii) food waste digestate, and (iv) food waste were evaluated for potential bioplastic production. Upstream and end-of-life emissions for these feedstocks equated to GHG balances of -16.3 to +23.5, 0.3 to 1.0, 1.0 to 4.8, and -0.1 to +0.4 kg CO2 eq. per kg bioplastic, respectively. The scenarios demonstrated that indirect land-use change could have a considerable negative impact on the environmental performance of maize-based plastic, but a positive impact, via terrestrial carbon sequestration, for lignocellulosic-derived plastic (unless increased feedstock demand drives deforestation). Appropriate use of residues and sidestreams is critical to the environmental performance of bioplastics. Efficient utilisation of residues may require decentralisation of bioplastic production and implementation of biorefinery and circular economy concepts.

Publication date: 01/05/2022

Author: George Bishop, David Styles, Piet N.L. Lens

Resources, Conservation and Recycling


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 870292.