What impact do bio-based plastics have on agricultural land?

Biodegradable bio-based plastics seem like THE great alternative to reduce plastic pollution. But in light of demographic explosion, with land and water becoming strategic global issues, what impact will the increased production of bio-based plastics have on agricultural land?

Bio-based plastics : the alternative for reducing plastic pollution ?

Bio-based plastics are made from plant resources such as wheat, corn, sugar cane, and potatoes. Since they pollute less than plastics made from fossil-based resources, and some of them (such as PLA*) are also biodegradable, they are now increasingly presented as a major alternative for reducing plastic pollution. In June 2020, the Citizen’s Convention suggested promoting “compostable bio-based packaging” to “limit overpackaging and the use of single-use plastics”. Composting now seems to be a promising option for end-of-life plastics that cannot be reused or recycled because they are too thin, dirty, or multi-layered.

With the growing popularity of bio-based plastics, questions are arising around its potential competition with human or animal food production. Here are 6 key figures to clarify things.

Bio-based plastics share in annual global plastics production

bioplastics production

Source : European Bioplastics 2019

Out of 335 million tonnes of plastic produced globally in 2018, only 1% is made of bioplastics.

Surface area of agricultural land for plant-based plastics production

bioplastics agricultural land

Source : European Bioplastics 2019

In 2019, 0.79 million hectares of land were used to produce renewable raw materials for bioplastics. In concrete terms:

corn production for bioplastics

Development of plant-based bioplastics

And in the future? Growing demand for these materials, along with the development and introduction of more sophisticated solutions, will drive investment to increase production capacity. Global production is therefore expected to increase to 2.62 million tonnes per year in 2022.

plant based bioplastics 2022

Source : European Bioplastics 2019

Even with market growth, the proportion of land used for bioplastics will increase only slightly.

Bio-based plastics are therefore nowhere close to competing with production for either human or animal consumption. Even if there is a 100-fold increase in bioplastics production over the next few years, competition with agricultural land will remain almost non-existent. 

Reducing food waste

food waste

Source : plastics market watch, été 2016

In parallel, a third of the food produced today is lost. Food waste has tripled in 50 years. At a global scale, 1.3 billion tonnes of food are thrown out every year, and this figure could reach 2.1 billion by 2030.*** Bio-based plastic packaging therefore offers an ideal solution for reducing this massive waste.  Learn more with our article about ecologic plastic

Beyond the conservation capacity of biodegradable bioplastics, their more widespread use will also have a positive impact on agricultural land by increasing compost yields.  

Increasing composting with bioplastics

composting and organic matter

Source : https://ilsr.org/compost-impacts-infographic/

Increased composting could help provide resources the land is lacking: compost makes soils richer, healthier, improves water retention, and spreads nutrients more quickly and easily in the soil.

Creating a virtuous circle around biodegradable bio-based plastic products (from design to end of life) establishes an unlimited resource regeneration cycle:

composting bioplastics

When bio-based plastic products are composted, the CO2 produced during its transformation also returns to the earth. Once the compost has matured, it can be used to improve the soil by providing nutrients and minerals. 

Until recently, cups, yoghurt pots, trays, caps, and other plastic films made of PLA* could only be composted industrially. Now, thanks to Evanesto®, they can be composted even at home! In 200 days, faster than it takes leaves from the yard to break down, the plant-based plastic will disintegrate without leaving any micro-particles or toxic materials in your compost.


Less waste and more natural fertilizer for the planet!

Did you know: each year a French person produces an average of 270 kg of residual household waste (RWH) and uses about 70 kg of plastic. According to ADEME’s most recent data, sorting biowaste at the source would cut the weight of garbage by 30%. Adding compostable bio-based plastics could reduce this weight by another 17%.  


And what if, rather than competing with future food resources, the real impact of biodegradable bio-based plastics could be to inspire changes in our approach, our way of thinking, and our consumption?


* PLA or polylactic acid is part of the family of bio-based and biodegradable bioplastics. It’s made from renewable resources like corn or sugar cane.

** The term bioplastic refers to two types of materials: Bio-based plastics (made from biomass: crop residues, sugar cane, potatoes, etc.) and biodegradable plastics that can be made from fossil fuels (petrochemical reactions).

***Article “Les clés pour comprendre le gaspillage alimentaire”, Science et vie, 24/10/2019


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