Clarifying Consumer Confusion: “Bio-Based” vs. “Biodegradable”


NEW YORK — Eighty-five percent of consumers think that bio-based/renewable also means biodegradable — Steve Mojo, executive director of the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) said this during a recent Bioplastek conference. He added that another 60 percent, meanwhile, think biodegradable products “magically disappear when you throw them away.”

Consumers often think terms such as “renewable”, “bio-based,” and “biodegradable” as interchangeable, thus clouding their understanding of the true nature of products labeled as such. This poses a new challenge to businesses to properly label their products as well as the packaging material they use to educate the purchasing public. With more and more consumers becoming environmentally aware, ‘greenwashing’ is becoming a more prevalent issue.

“The challenge all companies will face will be finding a way on the packaging to convey their message — especially when people are buying the product, not the packaging,” Mojo said, as reported by PlasticsNews. “It is confusing to consumers and it is going to get more so as many people don’t understand what those words really mean.”

Mojo further explained that businesses should shift their focus from product features to actual consumer benefits. “Those are features, which are just factual statements about the product or service, but it is not the reason customers buy,” Mojo said. “Companies need to focus more on the benefits the material and packaging are bringing to their customers because a benefit adds value to the customer, and it is the reason customers will buy.”

Melissa Hockstad, vice president of the Science, Technology and Regulatory Affairs of the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI), agreed that this confusion on terminology can be clarified with proper action on the part of the companies, citing that was why the SPI Bioplastics Council developed definitions for key industry-related terms.

She wrote in reply to Mojo’s call to action:

“Launched by SPI in 2008, the Council’s mission is to promote the development of bioplastics as an integral part of the plastics industry. From the beginning, the Council’s members identified education – both within and outside the plastics industry – as a key focus area. In 2009, the Council published a terminology guide to help clear up confusion over the definitions.”

Hockstad cited the following definitions for “bio-based” and “biodegradable”:

Biodegradable Plastic: a plastic that undergoes biodegradation (a process in which the degradation results from the action of naturally-occurring micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi, and algae) as per accepted industry standards. Accepted industry standard specifications are: ASTM D6400, ASTM D6868, ASTM D7081 or EN 13432.

Bio-based content: Fraction of the carbon content which is new carbon content made up of biological materials or agricultural resources versus fossil carbon content. Bio-based content is measured following the procedures set by ASTM D6866.

Mojo put it this way: Don’t tell consumer the product is green. Tell them that ‘it is greener than X because…’ Mojo added that companies should use their packaging to direct consumers to a website that can answer further questions about the product. Educating via product packaging is actually a very hands-on way of raising eco-awareness, as it reaches consumers directly in their everyday lives. believes in using recycled material in their products, and the company aims to popularize the idea of reusing and recycling through their own unique line of garbage bags made with 80% recycled material (10% of which is post-consumer, 70% post-industrial).

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