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What's the difference between bioplastic and recycled plastic?

What's the difference between bioplastic and recycled plastic?

Bioplastic vs Recycled Plastic 

Not that many years ago, it was very difficult to find any baby companies offering environmentally friendly products. Now, though, parents face an embarrassment of riches, and it can be challenging to sort through companies' claims to determine which business offers the best product.

Today we’re talking plastics. Plastic has long been a dirty word in environment circles, but nowadays there’s a lot of awareness and when it comes to toys, parents can find a variety of so-called environmentally friendly plastics. Two of these that are popping up a lot are recycled plastics and bioplastics.

Re-Play recycled plastic tableware

What is Bioplastic?

Bioplastics are all the rage in the green movement right now. We'll spare you the complex chemistry of these products, particularly since there are so many types of bioplastics. Basically, though, bioplastics share one key feature in common: they're made from renewable resources, such as sugar cane or corn, or even from by products like wood bark, bamboo fibre and corn husks. Standard plastics are made using petrochemicals and fossil fuels.

The aim of bioplastics is to ensure that the process of manufacturing the plastics doesn't rob our planet of its natural resources the same way traditional plastic manufacturing processes do.

The challenge with bioplastics is that the process of making these materials is not always ecologically friendly. Toxic waste may be released into the water or atmosphere. Bioplastics made from foodstuffs like corn raise ethical dilemmas about whether world food prices are increasing to fuel the Western World’s demand for consumer items.

What is Recycled Plastic?

Recycled plastic, as the name implies, is made from recyclable material. This generally means that it can be recycled once again. Like bioplastics, recycled plastics are made from a wide variety of materials, and the environmental impacts of the manufacturing process vary significantly depending on the specific plastic you use.

What about biodegradability?

The word bioplastic doesn’t mean that it’s biodegradable, it simply means that it’s made from plant based sources. Some bioplastics are biodegradable, some aren’t. The aim with bioplastics is not always biodegradability, but to make plastics from sustainable, renewable resources.

You may be able to compost bioplastics, but this depends on the material; in some cases only industrial composting is possible. To ensure that the bioplastic you’re choosing is biodegradable, check with the manufacturer.

Recycled plastics aren’t biodegradable, which makes it so important to recycled them again when you’re done.

Are these plastics safe in toys?

As always, it depends upon the type of plastic. If you’re choosing toys made from recycled plastics, make sure that it’s a safe plastic. For a guide on safe plastics, check out our blog post: What do the numbers on plastics mean?

Two trustworthy brands that are available in Australia are Re-Play and Green Toys

There's a new brand in the US making headlines, called Bioserie. Bioserie have developed a bioplastic specifically for children's toys, and the range of toys is due to be released later in 2014. There's no word on biodegradability, but they're free from all the nasties that can be associated with plastic toys. 

Image: Green Toys and Re-Play

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