Sustainability is coming into fashion for bioplastics and fibres

Europe is increasingly focusing on the sustainability of the biomass going into renewable materials and how these products can be recycled. This is particularly evident for single use items and it is spreading to articles that are disposed of after just a few uses like ‘fast fashion.’ The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has declared its support for biomaterials providing they are from sustainable production.  The Foundation, a key driver for the circular economy, has endorsed renewable feedstock, when recycled material can’t be used.  

Bioplastics producers are reacting by sourcing sustainably certified raw materials. NatureWorks has committed to increase ISCC PLUS certified corn input into their PLA (polylactic acid) bioplastic from 50 % to 100%. Total-Corbion has opted for Bonsucro certification for the sugar that goes into their PLA.  Consumers and brands are responding and companies in this sector are reporting increased sales. 

Sustainability and circularity were more widely discussed this year at WBM , the conference dedicated to bio-based products, than on previous occasions.  Three of the EU approved biomass sustainability schemes were participating, in addition to providers of recycling technology. There was also a session on apparel and textiles for the first time.  

About a third of all apparel is derived from natural materials such as cotton, cellulose, wool and  linen. They have the advantage that fibres, which enter the oceans through washing, are biodegradable, unlike those from fossil materials such as polyester. Recycling routes for natural materials are also more established. Responsible sourcing initiatives have been launched for natural fibres by Textile Exchange. Their 2025 Sustainable Cotton Challenge gets brands and retailers to commit to sourcing 100% of their cotton from sustainable sources. Cotton makes up nearly a quarter of all the fibres used for apparel.

Renewable materials such as bioplastics, and natural fibres like cotton and viscose, have a lower carbon footprint when produced responsibly than fossil materials. They also provide an income for rural communities all over the world. Sustainability and circularity must become mainstream for consumers to buy them in increasing quantities. Some big companies have taken bold actions. The rest needs to follow suit or the success achieved so far may fall apart at the seams. 

Published: 9 April 19

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