Ask any 10 people what bioplastics are, and the odds are that nine will get it wrong.
In the past, misunderstandings and misconceptions about bioplastics have tended to color the perception of these materials in the market, and these prejudices are still evident even today. Feedstock, supply and processability concerns, coupled with a lack of insight into the various different types of bioplastics, have long hampered the broader acceptance of these materials by the industry.
One common, very persistent error is the belief that bioplastics are the same thing as biodegradable plastics. This, to be clear, is categorically false.
While many early, primarily starch-based bioplastics may have been created to be biodegradable, this was certainly not the case for all. One of the earliest proponents of bioplastics was Henry Ford, who thought that industry and agriculture should be complementary to one another. He believed that plastic made from soybeans could be developed into a strong, lightweight and safe substitute for traditional metals. In the 1930s, he built a soybean laboratory in Greenfield Village, where experiments led to the development of soy-based oils and plastics for use in Ford Motor Co. vehicles. However, the outbreak of World War II halted all research efforts in this area, and the post-war availability of cheap and plentiful petroleum brought down the cost of manufacturing plastics based on oil.
As a result, Ford's dream of farmers being part of the industrial process receded into the background — but never wholly died. In France, the merits of plant-based plastic continued to be recognized. In fact, specialty chemical company Arkema celebrated in 2017 the 70th anniversary of Rilsan, its nonbiodegradable castor oil-based family of bio-based nylons. One of its first applications was to make the fuel lines of the legendary Citroën DS, back in the 1950s.