What are bio-based plastics?
Examples of bio-based plastics are BioPE, BioPET, cellulose acetate and PLA.
Bio-based plastics are derived from renewable raw materials (RRM). These include corn starch, sugar cane or beet, vegetable oils such as castor oil and cellulose from cotton or wood.
What is the terminological difference between bioplastics and bio-based plastics?
Bioplastics include both bio-based plastics and biodegradable plastics. The formulation 'bio-based' is specifically applied to plastics derived from renewable raw materials.
How much 'bio' is needed to make a bio-based material?
There are no precise specifications. Certification systems exist based on the proportions of bio-based plastics in a material.
Are products made of bio-based plastic biodegradable?
Both biodegradable and non-degradable plastics exist. Biodegradability is neither a necessary nor an exclusive feature of bio-based plastics - certain fossil-fuel plastics may also be formulated to be biodegradable. It is technically impracticable to create products with a long-service life, designed to remain resistant over periods of use under all climatic conditions, that are subsequently biodegradable after their useful life.
What does biodegradable mean?
Biodegradable means that a material can be broken down by natural, biological processes within a reasonable period of time. This is, however, a rather general statement. When speaking of the biodegradable properties of a material or product, it is essential to give additional information regarding the duration and the necessary environmental conditions. For instance, a material can biodegrade in the human body (surgical sutures), at the surface of the ocean, on the beach or at the bottom of the sea, in the soil on a field, or in a biogas or composting plant. Accordingly, there are various test standards and associated certification systems that distinguish, for instance, between industrial and domestic composting.
Is bio-based plastic more environmentally friendly than fossil-fuel plastic?
The use of renewable raw materials conserves our limited mineral oil resources and reduces CO2 emissions, in an average comparison with conventional fossil-fuel-based raw materials.
Is it true that the land needed to grow bio-based plastic source materials is in competition with farmland used for growing foodstuffs?
The worldwide production volume of bio-based plastics for 2017 is estimated at six million tonnes. Less than 0.1 percent of the world's agricultural land is used for growing the required raw materials. In comparison: all the fossil-fuel-based plastics needed in the world could theoretically be replaced by bio-based plastics, whose raw material corresponds with only 10 percent of the agricultural land used to grow food which is subsequently thrown away.
Naturally, in a growing market, it is important that there is no competition with the cultivation of foodstuffs, both now and in the future. For this reason, researchers are making great efforts in looking into the use of wood or agricultural waste materials as well as municipal green waste and even straw as raw materials for producing bio-based plastics.
What are the damaging effects of cultivating renewable raw materials for making plastic?
We are monitoring the use of soil fertilisers, pesticides and genetic engineering as well as the amount of water consumed in growing renewable raw materials. The goal for the future is to ensure that the raw materials used in producing bio-based plastics comes from sustainable agricultural production that is carried out in accordance with ecological criteria. However, it is also necessary to realise that ever since the onset of industrialisation, there has been a general continual intensification of agriculture to maximise yields when growing renewable raw materials for all areas of use, such as consumed and non-consumed foodstuffs, feed, energy sources, textiles, etc.
How are bio-based plastics disposed of by means of composting?
Only biodegradably formulated plastics can be composted. Controlled industrial composting necessitates standard conditions in accordance with EN 13432 that do not occur in nature. Biodegradable plastic only decomposes slowly under natural conditions. The duration of the process varies according to the material thicknesses and climatic conditions.
Can bio-based plastics be recycled?
BioPE and BioPET made from renewable raw materials can be detected in the recycling stream, recycled and reused in the same way as conventional PE and PET made from fossil-fuel-based raw materials.
Recycling systems for new types of bio-based plastics, such as PLA, are already under development. Schneider is also working on the sustainable reuse of PLA in a research association with the Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites (IfBB) of the Hochschule Hannover - University of Applied Sciences and Arts and other partners. A recycling company already exists in Germany that is able to separate the waste PLA from other materials collected in the dual waste disposal system.
Schneider pens made of bio-based plastic
Why does Schneider produce writing instruments made of plastic?
Plastic is a highly versatile material that lends itself well to creating user-specific solutions. Important aspects of writing instruments are high impermeability and good stability to ensure a long product service life, as well as outer surfaces that are pleasant to the touch. Moreover, plastic is a light, cheap material that can be used to make pens that anyone can afford. The simple and clean refilling methods that we offer for many of our products ensure their unlimited usability for years to come.
Why does Schneider use bio-based plastics?
Bio-based plastic is hardly a new invention. The first industrially produced plastic was a bioplastic - celluloid - first made in 1869. The first fossil-fuel-based plastics, which we still use today, were only invented in the early twentieth century. However, as they were cheaper, subsequent developments concentrated on them.
This is a situation that will - and must - change in the coming years. Mineral oil is a finite resource and frequently subject to speculation and crisis. Moreover, mineral oil production harbours a serious risk to the environment, for example through fracking. Our primary objective is for bio-based plastics to achieve all the familiar and outstanding characteristics of fossil-fuel plastics, so as to protect our finite resources.
Do writing instruments made of bio-based plastics have any disadvantages?
No, not at all. Our bio-based plastic writing instruments display no disadvantages when compared with similar products made from conventional fossil-fuel based plastic. This is because the bio-based plastics we use are specially developed and modified for our applications.
How is the proportion of bio-based material determined?
Since 2010, independent certification of bio-based products has been available in Germany. The certifying body DIN CERTCO introduced its 'DIN-proven biobased mark' for this purpose. Bio-based carbon content is determined by means of the standardised and internationally recognised C14 Method (EU Standard CEN/TS 17137, US Standard ASTM 6866). We have conducted this independent certification for all writing instruments made of bio-based plastic.
Why is it not possible to produce writing instruments made of 100% bio-based plastic?
The development of bio-based plastics is still ongoing. It is not yet possible to produce all the raw materials required for their production by renewable means. This is why some bio-based plastics are only partially made from renewable raw materials. One of the goals of our ongoing developments is to increase the bio-based content of the plastics employed in our production.
How can our bio-based pens have such vibrant colours despite being bio products?
Despite their high RRM content, the bio-based plastics configured for our applications can be dyed in brilliant colours. The dyes we use have been specially formulated for our purposes and they cover a broad colour spectrum. Our bio-based plastic products are not niche products and reflect the tastes of the broad public.
Why are not all of Schneider's writing instruments bio-based?
We use a large number of different types of plastic. The changeover to bio-based plastics requires an intensive development process. Not all types of bio-based plastic possess the properties that are required for writing instruments, such as providing a barrier to stop inks from drying out. We are currently working on further writing instruments made of bio-based plastic and will add them to our product range accordingly.
Why do we use bio-based plastic and not recycled plastic?
The two methods of conserving resources should not be placed in competition with each other, as they both have their own advantages. Which method is used depends on the demands placed on the ultimate product. Besides bio-based plastics, we also employ production waste from our injection moulding plant in the components of our writing instruments. Moreover, bio-based plastics can ultimately be recycled just as well as conventional plastics.
How should pens made of bio-based plastic be disposed of?
Writing instruments can be disposed of in normal household quantities in the regular domestic refuse. It makes no difference whether the barrel is made of bio-based plastic or not. Following its disposal, the plastic is either recycled or used for recovering heat energy. Only naturally stored CO2 is released, i.e. CO2-neutral energy is produced.
How are developments set to continue at Schneider?
Bio-based plastics offer great potential. We are already using the bio-based plastics that are available today and are helping to develop optimum production processes for them. We work in close coordination with researchers, for instance the Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites (IfBB) of the Hochschule Hannover - University of Applied Sciences and Arts.