Skip to content

The future of plastics

Plastics are an indispensable part of the modern world. At the same time, we face the challenge of minimizing their ecological footprint and finding innovative solutions for the future. In this article, we look at the environmental impact, critical ingredients and the possibility of a climate-neutral circular economy based on renewable resources.

The basics: Plastics in the modern world

BIOVOX Biokunststoffe für Medizintechnik, Pharma, Lebensmittel und Kosmetik

Plastics are versatile and play an important role in many industries. From sunglasses to tablet blisters, this inexpensive, lightweight and versatile material is constantly encountered in everyday life. Nevertheless, today more than ever, plastics are being criticized. The reason for this is their environmental impact: massive use of fossil fuels, high energy consumption during production, the persistence of microplastics in the environment and partly also due to health-critical components such as bisphenol A, formaldehyde or styrene. Even today, plastics are already less resource-intensive than alternative materials in most applications. But it is also clear that the popular and almost everywhere used material needs to be further developed. How can this be achieved? Let's take a look at this in detail!

In a nutshell

What is a plastic?

Plastics are synthetic materials that are characterised by their formability, durability and a wide range of applications. They are made from fossil resources (conventional plastics) or renewable resources (bioplastics) and can be found in a wide range of products, from simple packaging to complex applications such as medical devices.

In detail: Environmental impact, innovation & circular economy

BIOVOX MedEco IGH Medical Grade Bioplastic

Not all plastics are the same: Plastics are extremely diverse materials that differ greatly in their composition. In practice, different polymers, fillers and additives ensure an almost unlimited number of different plastics.

Some plastics are made from finite fossil resources, while others are based on renewable raw materials and are biodegradable. Therefore, it is important to know, and to name in the debate, which plastics are under criticism and which ones are fit for the future.

Problematic, potentially affected by future regulations and thus not fit for the future, are plastics that are produced from fossil resources, are non-recyclable, i. e. unsuitable for use in a circular economy, remain in the environment as microplastics and/or contain potentially harmful components.

#1 The future is circular: Recycling plastics

The EU aims to move our hitherto linear economy towards a Circular Economy [Q1]. Therefore plastics are collected, processed and recycled. Waste generates so-called value streams. As a result, fewer virgin & finite resources are required at the beginning of the product lifecycle and less waste has to be disposed of at the end of life.

However, plastic loses its technical properties as the number of recycling processes increases. It degrades and then has to be replaced, in whole or in part, by virgin or chemically recycled material. 


Fig.: Simplified representation of a circular economy

The fact that there are many different types of plastics also makes recycling a complex matter: Depending on the chain length of the polymers and the side chains on the base frame, the properties can be fundamentally different and incompatible with each other. For example, the material of a bottle can only be mixed poorly with the material of a foil. There is always some material loss, e.g. due to improper disposal or abrasion, which must be replaced. In addition, the demand for plastics is growing steadily. 

Consequently, recycling the plastics most commonly used today is not enough on its own. The extraction of raw materials must also be made more sustainable.

#2 The future is renewable: Biobased plastics

Biobased plastics are made from regrowable ressourcesn from starch or sugar. Like conventional plastics, bioplastics are mixed with additives to obtain certain properties. Depending on the formulation, they can achieve the same technical properties and are even suitable for use in more complex applications,such as medical technology.

Bioplastics are also recyclable and therefore suitable for use in the Circular Economy described above – in the case of chemical recycling even for reuse in medical technology products.

In a nutshell, a sustainable plastic is produced from renewable resources.

In a nutshell

Plastic innovation

Research is already underway on the production of plastics directly from CO2 or secondary biomass. Technologies already exist for the latter, but these are often only available on a pilot scale or are even more expensive and energy-intensive than the use of sugar or starch, i.e. primary biomass. For reasons of sustainability, the use of bio-residue streams will become the standard on which we also rely in the long term.

Carmen Rommel, Supply Chain & Sustainability
“Only by using biobased plastics, we can create a true circular economy without the use of fossil raw materials.”

Carmen Rommel, co-founder of BIOVOX

#3 The future is biologically safe: Regulatory aspects of critical ingredients

Critical ingredients include those that are harmful or potentially harmful to health, or that cannot be safely degraded by the body. These can be the polymers themselves, their starting materials or additives. Additives, for example, are added in order to obtain certain properties.

An example of critical polymers is the much-discussed PFASThese so-called eternity chemicals remain, as the name suggests, “eternally” in the organism or the environment. How some of these compounds work in the body or the environment is not yet sufficiently researched and therefore carries risks. This is different for substances that are potentially harmful to health. We know they have the potential to cause hormonal disruptions, increase the risk of cancer and cause other health problems. Polycarbonates (PC), for example, may contain hormone-active BPA depending on the synthesis pathway or the precursors used. Another example is critical plasticisers, which are mostly contained in polyvinyl chloride (PVC). 

Plastics containing critical substances are in danger of being banned or restricted in the near future.In a nutshell: a sustainable plastic, or its formulation, must be biocompatible in order to be fit for the future.

In a nutshell

Critical plastics

“Unfortunately, these additives often do not simply stay in the plastic, but are released again [...] In this way or through skin contact, they enter our bodies.”

Verbraucherzentrale  [Q2]

In a nutshell:

A sustainable plastic is bio-based, biocompatible & recyclable.

BIOVOX Megaphon

Plastics are diverse, but not all are sustainable. Final EU regulations could push some plastics out of the market and promote others. In order to get close to the target state, i.e. to avoid waste, conserve resources, reduce CO2 emissions and reduce microplastics, recyclable plastics from renewable resources are suitable without harmful ingredients. One thing is clear: the plastics industry is facing change, and environmentally friendly solutions are crucial. Those who take the lead can benefit: A timely switch to sustainable materials can bring market opportunities and thus financial benefits.

Citation of source

Do you want to delve deeper into the subject?
Für die Erstellung dieses Blogartikels, haben wir verschiedene Quellen herangezogen. Diese sind im Text an der jeweiligen Stelle markiert [Q…], und hier zu finden:
[Q1] EU Circular Economy Action Plan
[Q2] Verbraucherzentrale

Ready for a little Knowledge-Snack?

More BIOVOX knowledge

BIOVOX Biokunststoffe für Medizintechnik, Pharma, Lebensmittel und Kosmetik

The future of plastics

In this article, we look at how to generate value streams from hospital waste and recycle it into the production of new medical devices and pharmaceutical packaging. In short: how the circular economy succeeds in healthcare.

Read More »
Medical products that could be made out of bioplastics.

Circular Economy in Healthcare

In this article, we look at how to generate value streams from hospital waste and recycle it into the production of new medical devices and pharmaceutical packaging. In short: how the circular economy succeeds in healthcare.

Read More »
Klimawandel und Gesundheitsversorgung

Planetary Health

Your products are made from bioplastics now – great, but how do you communicate this switch to your target group? In this article, we explain how to communicate sustainability authentically.

Read More »
MedEco Medical Grade Compounds für Spritzen

Recycled Medical Grade

Plastics have been an essential part of medical technology for decades. In order to secure medical care for mankind, the material must therefore be handled in a sustainable manner. One option: Recycling! But can recyclates be used in medical technology?

Read More »