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The resources used for biodegradable products are as diverse as the items themselves. Therefore, we want to briefly introduce some of the most common raw-materials and the processed products main characteristics, giving you the background knowledge required to make a choice that suits you and the products purpose best.

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1st generation resources (materials suitable for consumption as food and fodder)

Material Description
Bagasse

Bagass

Biodegradable products derived from sugarcane bagasse is yet another application of converting fibrous raw-materials into biodegradable products. Bagasse pulp, as a natural by-product of sugar refineries, has become an increasingly important material for tableware and other packaging applications. Processing under high-pressure and temperatures result in products that are suitable for hot as well as cold food while showing high durability and even having microwave and freezer safe properties. However, even though the processing of bagasse is energy-requiring, its carbon balance is significantly lower compared to conventional polymer production which is in addition to the processing itself supported by its feature as being an abundant and renewable waste-material.

Agricultural waste recourse, heat-resistant, microwave and freezer safe

Energy-demanding processing

Grass fibre

Grass Fibres

Packaging made from up to 50% grass fibres is one of the newest alternatives to conventional plastics. Grass is (nearly) all abundant, can be harvested several times per year and there is a significant amount of excess hay that can’t be considered as good quality hay for livestock due to nutrient loss caused by late harvesting or storage. Compared to other lingo-cellulose biodegradable products, grass fibre packaging has one of the lowest carbon footprints due to an up to 60% lower demand for water during production processes and generally shorter ways of logistics from the sources to the paper mills. However, as grass is not containing considerable amounts of lignin in order to secure the stabilisation of products, the residual 50% of the products need to be either cellulose derived from wood or – the more sustainable way – recycled paper and cardboard. Current applications of grass boxes include multi-purpose packaging as, for instance, for clothing, but also eggs, vegetables and fruits are more and more frequently sold in grass box packaging. Furthermore, the short timescale required for composting as well as its visual and sensible natural texture make products made from grass fibres and wood or recycled paper a real ‘green’ alternative to conventional packaging.

Best environmental performance, durable, heat and water resistant, quick degradation, natural texture

Not available in white

starches

Starches

Starch-based biodegradable plastics are amongst the pioneers in the provision of fully degradable single- and multi-use items, in particular in the hospitality and grocery sector. The raw material can be derived from corn, wheat, potatoes, tapioca and a variety of other plants. This extensive supply makes the production of any product required for gastronomy possible, from bags to cups, cutlery, plates as well as containers for hot and cold food. Biodegradable starch products have high insulation properties, are heat and water resistant as well as durable. Starch-based products provide all required features while being environmentally sustainable.

 

Insulating, heat and water resistant, durable, manifold application options

Discoloration possible, susceptible to moisture over time

2nd generation resources (materials non-suitable for consumption as food and fodder)

Material Description
Holz

Wood

Biodegradable products derived from wood have been present in our lifestyles for thousands of years,
and especially paper and cardboard are the products that first come to mind when thinking
about alternative packaging. However, some utilisations go beyond the traditional
application of wood. Additional coatings or toxic components can be omitted without
compromising water-repellent features due to processing under high temperature and
pressure. Furthermore, advanced techniques in wood pulp processing lead to an increase in
additional properties such as heat resistance. This allows a high-quality and locally-sourced
production of economically-friendly commodities such as cups, cutlery or trays that meet all
the stress-resistance required to accomplish modern standards.

Water-repellent, durable, versatile utilisation

Medium heat-resistance, slow growing resource

Bambus

Bamboo

Contrary to traditional timber-based cellulosic products has bamboo a variety of advantages as a substitute for conventional polymers. Especially its fast growth and sustainable utilisation (bamboo timber can be harvested multiple times from a single planting), its physical properties and secure and energy-efficient processing have promoted its importance as being a high-quality cellulose fibre as well as the primary feedstock for Asian pulp, paper and fibre-based composite industries. Bamboo is frequently used for packaging purposes as well as the production of dinnerware such as coffee cups or trays. Due to the woven structure of bamboo products and their manufacturing under high pressure are bamboo products long-lasting and stress-resistant. Their relatively short timescale required for composting promotes its feature of being one of the environmental friendliest biodegradable products.

Fast growing resource, durable, water and heat resistant

Not suitable for changing (wet-dry) conditions

Blätter

Leaves

Leaf-based biodegradable products are one of the most environmentally friendly options to consider as their main component does not require additional cultivation, instead under most circumstances they can be regarded as agricultural waste. Palm leaves are the most popular raw material used in this process due to their abundance, size and physical properties, making them highly favourable. Processing of leaf-based biodegradable products is done in a variety of ways: from industrialised processing under high temperature and pressure, to small-scale manufacturing, promoting the livelihoods of local communities and therewith significantly contributing to environmental as well as socio-economic aspects of sustainable development. Due to the flexibility of the leaves’ physical properties a variety of uses are available. The most commonly used applications can be found in packaging as well as the provision of disposable tableware, ranging from cups to cutlery and trays. Additionally, the short timescale needed for degradation of leaf-based products makes them one of the most environmentally friendly biodegradable product applications.

Flexible, fast degradation, socio-economic benefits

Short lifetime, poor heat-resistance

Reishülse

Rice Husk

Rice husks are an abundant by-product of the world’s main single land-use: rice cultivation. This results in huge amounts of rice husks as residues that can be utilised for a variety of purposes. Due to its high silica content, constituting up to 90% in rice husk ash, and correlated reinforcement properties, rice husk is a promising ligno-cellulose component for the production of biodegradable packaging and tableware. Processing under high-pressure and temperature conditions results in products that are not only long-lasting, re-usable and sturdy, but also heat, freezer and microwave-safe. Furthermore, newer advancements in processing technologies have increased the water-repellent properties to make rice husk products even more durable. Besides of its origin as being an agricultural residue, biodegradable rice husk products contribute significantly to the Asian economy and the farmers' revenues if fair traded [5]. Furthermore, the potential of rice husk compost as an alternative for organic manure has been evaluated in a variety of studies [6], highlighting the soil-improving potential of rice husk, and making it an even more interesting biodegradable product taking the benefits after its lifetime into consideration.

Durable, re-usable, freezer and microwave safe, heat-resistant

Energy-demanding processing

wheat straws

Straw

Wheat straw as an agricultural residue is an excellent raw-material for the production of bioplastic due to its abundance and provision of both, fibres and sugars, to construct the end-products’ building blocks. It is a low cost resource with a high availability that can be used to produce biodegradable single-use items and tableware characterised by a high rigidity, flame retardance and flexibility. This implies durable products with a long lifetime under frequent usage – ideal in gastronomy where tableware is re-used. Further, the products are extremely lightweight due to the straws low density, and show an excellent water and heat resistance.

Durable, re-usable, freezer and microwave safe, heat-resistant

None

3rd generation resources (microorganisms)

Material Description
algae

Algae

The production of bioplastics derived from algae is currently one of the most innovative field in material-science. The cultivation of algae is extremely sustainable since it does not compete with any other land utilisations while providing high yields. Using novel technologies, bioplastics from algae can nowadays replace any single-use item in gastronomy, as well as bottles and food films. The material is flexible, waterproof and rapidly degradable within 4-6 weeks, ideal for any type of cold food and beverages to take away.

Rapidly degradable, waterproof, flexible, lightweight

No heat resistance

yeast

Yeast

Yeast-derived bioplastics are made of one of nature’s simplest building blocks: fatty acids. This allows the production of strong and highly flexible products that are quickly degradable. Biodegradable products from yeasts are highly resistant to moisture as well as cold, and the material is widely utilised in the manufacturing of food-packaging films, disposable gloves and bags – applications often not covered by other materials.

Rapidly degradable, ductile, heat-resistant, waterproof

Not widely applied yet