Bettina Hübner/ Monika Klick
Institute of Agricultural Technology

Bundesallee 47
38116 Braunschweig
Phone: +49 531 596 4102/ 4103
Fax: +49 531 596 4199

Biodegradable biobased plastics - Recommendations for appropriate use


BBKH (c) Thünen-Institut
BBKH (© Thünen-Institut)

Biodegradable biobased plastics - Recommendations for appropriate use

Biodegradable biobased plastics (BBK) are often seen as a solution for the pollution of the environment with plastic waste. But where does substitution of conventional by BBK plastics make sense? The institutes for agricultural technology and market analysis are investigating this question.

Background and Objective

A world without plastics is hardly imaginable any more. At present, about 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year. As a result of improper disposal, plastic parts and fragments are released into our environment and can remain there for several centuries. 

Biodegradable biobased plastics can be one way of reducing pollution from plastic waste. With a share of less than 1% in the plastics market, biodegradable plastics still play a niche role, but form a growth market. In Germany and Europe, they are currently mainly used in the packaging sector. They have a promising application potential in agriculture and horticulture (e. g. as degradable mulch films and flower pots).

The biodegradability of BBK depends on many factors, such as the type of product, the additives it contains, the temperature, the availability of oxygen and the presence of appropriate microorganisms. Depending on the environment and the conditions there, the degradation varies greatly and can last from a few weeks to several years, also with regard to subsequent use.

The sustainable design of BBK products, especially for applications without disposal requirements (e. g. mulching films), is of particular importance. BBK products with disposal requirements are subject to the applicable waste management regulations after use. Recycling and raising consumer awareness play an important role here, too, in order to prevent littering of plastics in general.

Up to now, there have been comparatively few scientific studies on the degradation behaviour and the distribution of BBK in marine, limnic or terrestrial habitats. Existing testing methods and standards for product labelling do not adequately reflect the degradation in the partially very heterogeneous habitats. Therefore they are currently being further developed.

The aim of the project is to determine the current state of knowledge on BBK and to derive recommendations for its practical application. On the basis of the results, recommendations for action to strengthen the appropriate use of BBK products while avoiding harm to humans and the environment are presented.


The project is divided into several sub-areas, which are listed below.

  • Summary of the state of knowledge on the distribution of BBK and its degradation products in the environment and in food and feed. The focus will also be on current studies of biodegradability in soil, freshwater and marine environments.
  • Creation of a market overview for BBK and its applications, as well as the appropriateness of the applications
  • Development of general requirements for sustainable design of BBK products
  • Development of a checklist to support decision-making processes
  • Providing an overview of the relevant standards for testing the biodegradability of BBK as well as the activities of standardisation and guideline bodies; derivation of the need for action.


Involved Thünen-Partners

Funding Body

  • Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe e.V. (FNR)
    (national, öffentlich)


6.2017 - 5.2019

More Information

Projekt type:
Project funding number: 22020716
Funding program: FNR
Project status: ongoing

Funding Body:

Logo FNR