Exploring perceptions of environmental professionals, plastic processors, students and consumers of bio-based plastics: Informing the development of the sector

Neha Patel, Eoin Cunningham, Debbie Roy, Ashley Cathcart, Martin Dempster, Emma Berry, Beatrice Smyth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Bio-based plastics are produced from bio-based raw materials such as sugar cane, potatoes, corn, and agricultural and slaughterhouse waste. The evolution of the bio-based plastic market is affected by the stakeholders involved owing to their role in production processes, environmental guidelines and purchasing decisions. It is therefore imperative to understand the perceptions of stakeholders in order to inform the development of the bio-based plastics sector. This novel exploratory study investigates the perceptions and attitudes of three stakeholder groups; environmental professionals and plastics processors; university students; and consumers in Belfast, Northern Ireland. During the focus groups (25 participants in total) samples were presented of bio-based plastics such as starch-based monolayer and multilayer, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). A qualitative analysis using the framework method revealed that environmental professionals and plastics processors were aware of both the benefits such as a reduction in use of fossil fuels; but also the challenges, which include the utilisation of agricultural land for biomass substrates; and possible contamination of current conventional plastic recycling streams. Although there was a general lack of knowledge among students and consumers about bio-plastics, they conveyed their beliefs that the use of agricultural waste will result in closed-loop systems and it required a balanced approach to production and waste management. Among students and consumers, alarms were raised about contamination of food by bio-based packaging prepared from slaughterhouse waste. However, they supported slaughterhouse waste being used in the production of bio-based plastics for non-food contact items. The students and consumers and some of the environmental professionals and plastic processors were reluctant to pay more for bio-based plastics. The results indicate that manufacturers of bio-based plastics can benefit by educating customers on environmental impacts of production processes such as beginning-of-life implications using life cycle assessment parameters on product labels. This should be incorporated into information provided on labelling using standards from neutral organisations. This research could inform future communication strategy around bio-based plastics with both the public and industry.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)574-587
Number of pages14
JournalSustainable Production and Consumption.
Volume26
Early online date16 Dec 2020
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Dec 2020

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