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Biodegradability - Are biobased materials always biodegradable?
28 September 2020

What do you know about chemicals, asks Stahl? Are they essential in our everyday life? Is there something like ‘good’ or ‘bad’ chemicals? In our series ‘Stahl Explains’, our chemists and researchers will give clear answers to most frequently asked questions. This week, Amanda Beckers explains why bio-based and biodegradable are something different: 



We have all heard the terms of bio-based and biodegradable. These terms are often used interchangeably, but they have a different meaning. "Bio-based" refers to sources of the raw materials. A bio-based material is completely or partly derived from biomass, such as plants, trees or animals. The biomass can have undergone physical, chemical or biological treatment. A bio-based feedstock can be combined with fossil-based feedstocks for various reasons, for instance: price, performance or functionality.

The term "biodegradable” refers to the ability of a material to decompose by naturally occurring microorganisms (e.g. bacteria and fungi). It is related to the material's end-of-life rather than the source of the materials. A bio-based material is not necessarily biodegradable. It is often expected that because bio-based materials are synthesized by living matters, they are also capable to be utilized by other living matter (microorganism). However, as stated in the first paragraph: physical, chemical, or biological treatment can be applied to the biomass to convert, improve, and modify it. It makes the bio-based material suitable for applications, but in that process, it might lose its biodegradability. Moreover, biodegradation's characteristic does not rely upon the resource of material but is rather associated with its chemical structure.

Thus, 100% bio-based material may not always be biodegradable and 100% fossil-based material might be degradable.