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Greg Shulman
By Greg Shulman
Monday, November 28, 2011 - 16:42

The world of biomaterials is really still in its infancy within the plastics industry. Currently, most biopolymers on the market are intended to replace commodity grade plastics, such as polystyrene or polyethylene, though there are some materials which are being developed for engineering grade applications, as well. Additionally, there is a great deal of time and money being spent to further this market and increase the material selection currently available. However, for those who aren’t already familiar with the materials, some of the terminologies used to classify biopolymers can be somewhat ambiguous. Words like “bio-based” or “bio-degradable” might sound alike, but they do not necessarily mean the same thing. So, if you’re in the market for a green material solution for your injection molding project or even if you’re just a bit confused by an existing product’s marketing terminology, here are some quick definitions to help you navigate basic biopolymer properties:

Bio-degradable- This is the most commonly misinterpreted term. Biodegradable means that a material will break down into biologically useful components in natural environments, without pressure or high heats. This means that a biodegradable material will, theoretically, dissolve on the side of the road, on a forest floor, or at the bottom of a lake.

Compostable- This means that a material can be broken down in the presence of oxygen, heat, and pressure into components which will be biologically useful. Keep in mind that these materials can be produced with varying degrees of compostability—some materials might be able to break down in a consumer’s small compost pile at home, while others may need to be processed in an industrial composting facility using high heat and pressure in order to break down properly.

Bio-based- This means that the material was produced using renewable sources of plant matter (such as potato or corn starch), as opposed to petroleum products. Bio-based materials may or may not be biodegradable or compostable.

As the popularity of biomaterials increases, new and improved products will become available on the market offering properties comparable to current petroleum based engineering grade plastics.