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Kong, U.; Mohammad Rawi, N.F.; Tay, G.S. Applications of Bioplastics and Reinforced Bioplastics. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 28 November 2023).
Kong U, Mohammad Rawi NF, Tay GS. Applications of Bioplastics and Reinforced Bioplastics. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed November 28, 2023.
Kong, Uwei, Nurul Fazita Mohammad Rawi, Guan Seng Tay. "Applications of Bioplastics and Reinforced Bioplastics" Encyclopedia, (accessed November 28, 2023).
Kong, U., Mohammad Rawi, N.F., & Tay, G.S.(2023, June 02). Applications of Bioplastics and Reinforced Bioplastics. In Encyclopedia.
Kong, Uwei, et al. "Applications of Bioplastics and Reinforced Bioplastics." Encyclopedia. Web. 02 June, 2023.
Applications of Bioplastics and Reinforced Bioplastics

The introduction of bioplastics has been an evolution for plastic industry since conventional plastics have been claimed to cause several environmental issues. Apart from its biodegradability, one of the advantages can be identified of using bioplastic is that they are produced by renewal resources as the raw materials for synthesis. Nevertheless, bioplastics can be classified into two types, which are biodegradable and non-biodegradable, depending on the type of plastic that is produced. Although some of the bioplastics are non-biodegradable, the usage of biomass in synthesising the bioplastics helps in preserving non-renewable resources, which are petrochemical, in producing conventional plastics. However, the mechanical strength of bioplastic still has room for improvement as compared to conventional plastics, which is believed to limit its application. Ideally, bioplastics need to be reinforced for improving their performance and properties to serve their application. Synthetic reinforcement has been used to reinforce conventional plastic to achieve its desire properties to serve its application, such as glass fiber.

polymers bioplastic reinforced bioplastic lignocellulosic renewable resources

1. Introduction

There are different classifications of bioplastics, which are mainly based on the biodegradability or the materials. Nevertheless, bioplastics could be classified into two major types in general, which are biodegradable bioplastics and non-biodegradable bioplastics. Biodegradable bioplastics refer to bio-resources-derived bioplastics, which are biodegradable, and these types of bioplastics include poly(lactic acid) (PLA), poly(hydroxyalkanoate) (PHA), and bio-based poly(butylene succinate) (Bio-PBS). On the other hand, non-biodegradable bioplastics include bio-based poly(ethylene) (Bio-PE), bio-based poly(propylene) (Bio-PP), and bio-based poly(ethylene terephthalate) (Bio-PET), which are non-biodegradable, although they are derived from renewable resources. However, in the study by Rosenboom et al. (2022), there are some petrochemical plastics, which can be biodegradable, such as poly(butylene succinate) (PBS) or poly(vinyl alcohol) (PVA), and they are also listed as bioplastics due to their biodegradability [1].

Recent research and development have achieved better mechanical properties of bioplastics, such as higher flexibility, strength, and thermal stability, but the problems and limitations still exist in achieving low cost bioplastic while having comparable mechanical properties with the conventional plastics in the current market [2]. In addition, shortcomings of bioplastics, such as weak mechanical properties, thermal stability, flexibility, and water permeability compared to conventional plastics, have limited their applications in various industries [3][4]. Hence, reinforcement of bioplastics with low cost and biodegradable natural material has become the focus of the current study in bioplastics. The common techniques used to reinforce bioplastics are blending another type of polymer into the bioplastic (polymer blend) and adding filler into the bioplastic. Polymer blending is a technique of adding another complementary polymer into bioplastics to overcome the shortcomings of bioplastics. For instance, Chotiprayon et al. (2020) blended thermoplastic starch (TPS) with PLA to reduce brittleness [5]. However, the study also stated that tensile and impact strength of the bioplastic blend are dropped. Hans-Josef Endres (2017) stated that the blend polymers are only thermodynamically miscible and stable when there is good compatibility between the blend polymers [6]. Nevertheless, the compatibility issue could be overcome with the addition of a compatibilizer. In other words, the polymer blend could overcome the limitations of bioplastics if the blend components have good compatibility.

2. Healthcare Industry

In the healthcare industry, different types of thermoplastics have been employed due to their excellent properties to serve in applications. The high usage of plastics includes plastic medical instruments, such as IV tubes, surgical gloves, blood bags, syringes, and packaging of medical instruments, which could ensure hygiene conditions. Nowadays, biodegradable bioplastics have been applied in healthcare applications, such as controlled drug delivery systems and therapeutic device implantation [7]. For any medical instrument, it needs to undergo a sterilization process (e.g., high temperature steam sterilization, ethylene oxide (EtO), gamma irradiation), and it has a high chance to contact with various chemicals or body fluids, and these conditions often lead to an increment of biodegradation rate and a reduction of molecular weight of polymers [8]. In other words, the materials used in such applications should have high resistance against different types of chemicals and sterilization processes while maintaining the functionality and safety of the instruments [9]. Biodegradable bioplastics, such as poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA), PLA, and Poly(ε-caprolactone) PCL, are used in medical applications, including tissue engineering, as it is biodegradable by fungi and bacteria within humans’ bodies [10]. For the biomedical applications, bioplastics are used to be applied in human’s bodies. This often requires that the bioplastics possess biodegradability and non-toxicity, so the bioplastics application did not require an additional process to be removed from the body, and it did not bring harmful effect to applicants.
Bano et al. (2018) stated that biodegradable bioplastics, i.e., PCL, PLA, and PLGA, have various applications in the industry because of their bioresorbable and biocompatibility properties, but the mechanical properties of these bioplastics have limited their applications, such as bone regeneration or replacement, which the bioplastics could not support, and some tissue engineering applications, due to low mechanical properties, could not match the tissue properties [10]. In addition, it has been reported that most of the biopolymers have lower resistance against high temperature and the commonly used chemicals in the industry [9]. Metal medical instruments could not be replaced with bioplastics because of the shortcomings of bioplastics, which have limited the applications of bioplastics in the healthcare industry. Therefore, research on blending bioplastics with other materials to reinforce the properties is essential to ensure the properties of the reinforced bioplastic, which could be employed in specific applications and fulfil the requirements. In Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews (2016), applications of using reinforced PLA include gene delivery, tissue engineering, implants, shape memory, and controlled-release drug delivery [11]. Liu et al. (2011) reinforced PLA through blending with ethylene vinyl acetate copolymer (EVA) to produce paclitaxel-eluting stent coatings, which could modulate the drug release amount and rate through adjusting the PLA amount in the formulation [12]. Saini et al. (2016) stated that the use of PLA as one of the components in tissue engineering scaffolds gives better processing property, and using reinforced PLA, i.e., poly(glycerol sebacate) (PGS)/PLA blend, incorporated the properties of faster degradation and better wettability, which could further improve the biodegradability and compatibility with the tissue recovery period [11]. Besides, reinforced bioplastics are widely applied in packaging for healthcare products, including medical and personal care. As bioplastics are proven to be hygienic for healthcare product packaging, reinforced bioplastics further improve the functionality of the packaging. Reinforced bioplastic packaging, with improved mechanical properties, are higher in resistance against mechanical damage that led to tearing or breaking of the packaging, where these properties could further prevent virus and bacterial contamination on the medical instrument packed with the reinforced bioplastics. Chitosan, chitin, and polysaccharides impart anti-bacterial properties to the packaging while increasing the shelf-life of packaging [13][14].
Research by Dan Kai et al. (2018) suggested that lignin-reinforced bioplastics, which have high antioxidant activity, could be used as antioxidants to protect humans from oxidative stress, protect skin from radiation and pollutants, and promote regeneration of cartilage tissue [15]. Additionally, reinforcement, using material, such as lignocellulosic fibre and lignin, further imparts antimicrobial function to the bioplastics [16]. In the future, regarding reinforced bioplastic application in the healthcare industry, it is possible for bioplastics to be applied in biophotonic applications, where biophotonics is the technology of utilising or producing photons and light to image, identify, and analyse cells and tissues through the light properties of living structures, and this application could ease tissue engineering by using reinforced bioplastics in human [7]. Furthermore, a study shows that clay-reinforced PLA-based bioplastics have great potential in packaging for personal care and medical products, as the migration from the reinforced bioplastic is within the standard, and the mechanical properties could resist the working environment of these products [14][17].

3. Electrical and Electronic Industry

Nowadays, bioplastic has a wide range of applications in electrical and electronic industry (E&E industry), including bioplastics conductors, which are presently known as solid polymeric electrolytes (SPEs), which are used for the development of electrochromic devices, batteries, diodes, fuel cells, etc. [18][19]. Other than that, bioplastics have high usage in assemble part for demanding consumer products, such as casing for computer elements and mobile phones, speakers, mice for computer, and vacuum cleaners [20]. Bioplastics can be applied as membranes for electroacoustic devices, reinforcement for electronic paper, and for water treatment [21]. In the field of electroacoustic devices, bioplastics possess similar vibration intensity as aluminium and titanium diaphragms, with the ability to make deep bass notes and clear trebles tones [22]. Bozó et al. (2021) stated that thermal and electrical properties of conductive bioplastics had limited their application in replacement of critical metals in the industry [23]. Thermal and electrical properties are indeed a vital issue in applying bioplastics in the industry. Other than being applied as assembly parts, bioplastics have limited applications in the industry, which is due to the main requirement in the industry being electrical and thermal conductivity. Commonly, without specific functionality incorporation or any reinforcement, most conventional plastics are electrical and thermal insulator, while bioplastics have low electrical and thermal conductivity, as well as low thermal stability, which further limited their application in the E&E industry [24]. Reinforcing bioplastics with suitable materials could incorporate and strengthen the electrical and thermal conductivity properties, which make it have wider applications.
Reinforced bioplastic imparts additional effects, including conductive, magnetic, optical and electrical properties, and thermal stability enables it to have a wider application in the industry [25]. Reinforcing bioplastics using carbon nanotubes (CNT) and cellulose nanofiber showed higher mechanical, electrical, and thermal properties as compared to a non-reinforced bioplastic, which is more suitable for electronic applications [25][26]. Cellulose nanofiber-reinforced bioplastics and CNT-reinforced bioplastics have various applications in the industry, such as flexible photovoltaic cells (solar cell), sensors, advanced electronics, and as substrates used in roll-to-roll fabrication techniques [25]. In previous roll-to-roll techniques, bioplastics as the substrate faced difficulty, as they possess a high coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE), where the dimension of the bioplastic changed upon working under relatively higher temperature, but, with the addition of cellulose nanofiber into the bioplastics, it improved the performance of the CTE, which allowed the applications of reinforced bioplastics in the roll-to-roll technique [25]. Besides, there are three-dimensional printing filaments in the market using graphene-reinforced PLA instead of conventional plastics, which give the advantages of quicker cooling rate due to high thermal conductivity, lower deformation, and biodegradability [27].
Graphene has excellent thermal, mechanical, and electrical properties, and it is incorporated in bioplastics, which greatly enhances mechanical properties of bioplastics while maintaining high flexibility and imparting electrical conductivity [28]. The graphene-reinforced PLA was also reported to have the potential to be used in orthopaedic and scaffold applications [27]. Besides, carbon fibre, which has high physical, mechanical, and thermal properties, are incorporated in PLA to impart excellent electrical conductivity and electromagnetic interference in the bioplastics, which then made it have the ability for electromagnetic interference (EMI) shielding [29]. A study conducted by Bozó et al. (2021) stated that carbon-based conductive materials have high electrical conductivity and could be used as reinforcements for bioplastics, and they might be suitable to be an alternative for the metals in applications that do not require extremely high electrical conductivity [23]. Electronic devices, including sensors, communication devices, transistors, inductors, electromagnetic shields, and capacitors, are also listed as potential reinforced bioplastics in the future of E&E industry [30].

4. Architecture and Construction Industry

Usage of plastics for architecture and construction purposes was started a few decades ago. The common plastic usages in these industries are pipes, insulation, floor coverings, cables, etc. Wall cladding, geotextiles, façade elements, and pipes are examples of bioplastic material applications in the architecture and construction industries. Conventional plastic applications in the industry, including textile fleece, cables, or floor coverings, require high strength to resist against different heavy workload conditions. Bioplastic materials have great application potential in the industry, but the cost is high due to the fact that better quality bioplastics mostly require extra cost in processing, and the performance of conventional bioplastic in the industry is not suitable and is insufficient to apply in the industry [31][32]. Ivanov and Stabnikov (2017) stated that the application of biodegradable bioplastics can give benefits to the industry, such as environmental and bio-economic sustainability, reduction of construction waste disposal cost, and temporary construction excavation costs [33]. Friedrich (2022) stated that the selection of construction materials is preferable for conventional plastics, as the properties of bioplastics, for instance, mechanical strength, resistance against biodeterioration agents, and life-span, are not guaranteed [34]. Besides, textile fleece in the industry usually prefers membrane materials, and, in this application, conventional plastics, which have higher strength and flexibility, are more preferable than bioplastics [35].
Mechanical strength of bioplastics could be enhanced through the addition of reinforcing materials, which enable application of reinforced bioplastics in the industry. Bioplastics reinforced with different structural materials provide benefits, such as being water resistant, being lightweight, having high stability in load resistant, having a low cost, having durability, and having ease of processing as construction materials in the industry [36][37]. Reinforced bioplastics are commercially available to be used as stabilisers for earthen construction materials, which previously used cement, and reinforced bioplastics can improve strength, durability, recyclability, and water resistance [37]. There was a study on using gel-type bioplastics reinforced with natural fibres and xanthan gum, which shows higher mechanical properties and lower shrinkage value [37]. Moreover, lignocellulosic fibre-reinforced bioplastics are commonly used in construction products, for instance, window frames and doors, because of their hydrophobic property and resistance to biodeterioration [36]. Lignocellulosic fibre-reinforced bioplastics have the advantages of strong mechanical properties, being elastic, and being biodegradable. Other than that, bioplastics, such as PLA, are reinforced with clay or CNT, and they showed improvement in mechanical properties, such as tensile strength, scratch resistance, and break elongation [33].
One of the potential applications of reinforced bioplastics is the high strength characteristics to be applied in construction formwork [32]. Besides, reinforced bioplastics are potential materials for construction textiles to replace conventional plastics, as fibre=reinforced bioplastics possess the quality and properties required, as stated by Friedrich (2022) [34]. Other than that, reinforced bioplastics can also be used as insulation for partitions and walls in temporary constructions, or they can be used for building temporary constructions [38].

5. Agricultural Industry

In the year 2017, the total plastics used in the agricultural industry were recorded as 6.96 million tons [39]. Cultivation films, greenhouses, tunnels, pesticide containers, storage bags, mulching, and pots are examples of plastic applications in the industry. There are wide applications of plastics in the industry due to their durability, water resistance, lightweight nature, and protective properties, and these properties can maximise crop yields [40]. Bioplastics also have applications in industry, such as in pots, seedling trays, mulching, and polymer-coated fertiliser [40][41][42]. Seedling trays tend to disintegrate in the soil after the sprouting and the growth of seeds, and the biodegradation of seedling trays would not emit harmful chemical to the soil or be absorbed by the plants [43]. One thing to highlight in these applications is the bioplastic mulching films, which are also known as biodegradable plastic mulches (BDMs) in the industry. Materials used for producing BDMs include cellulose, starch, PLA, and PHA, and these BDMs are ploughed into the soil after being used, as they can be degraded by microorganisms in the soil, and decomposition of BDMs into the soil can improve soil quality, led by enhancing microbial activity [44]. Other than that, PHA also have been applied as carriers for insecticides, crop protection films, fertilisers, and seed encapsulation [45].
A study on bioplastic-reinforced with EFB in producing high quality BDMs shows that fibre-reinforced mulch film could strengthen the film while helping the plants in adapting climate changes [46][47]. In addition, lignocellulosic fibre-reinforced bioplastics accelerate the polymeric matrix degradation rate in soil, which made reinforced bioplastics more suitable to be used as plant nursery bags or pots in the agriculture industry [48][49]. Besides, reinforced bioplastics also have been used as packaging for agricultural products, as the porous property helps in better air flow, which keeps the freshness, and the enhanced flexibility and strength of bioplastics improve the durability of the agricultural products packaging [50]. Using natural resources in reinforcing bioplastics for plant nursery in the industry would provide a similar function to bioplastics in BDMs, which increase the soil quality when the reinforced bioplastics decomposed in the soil. However, the elements and gases emitted have to be fully studied to avoid any disadvantages to agricultural crops.

6. Packaging Industry

Data provided by the European Association of Plastics Recycling and Recovery Organizations (EPRO) in 2020 show that usage of plastics in the six largest European countries of the packaging industry is around 40.5%. In the year 2021, use of bioplastics as packaging material is about 48%, which is approximately 1.15 million tons of global bioplastic production [51]. The common bioplastic applications in the packaging industry are bags, films, and wraps. In the beverage packaging market, non-biodegradable bioplastics are used, for instance, Coca-Cola designed PlantBottle® synthesis from bio-based ethylene glycol (made up of 30% Bio-PET), and PepsiCo used switchgrass, corn husks, and pine bark to produce 100% Bio-PET for their product packaging [52][53]. Other than that, bioplastics, such as PHA, starch, and PLA, are also often used in food packaging, but these types of bioplastics have lower thermal stability, which leads to difficulty in forming the packaging product [53]. Bioplastics are low in mechanical and permeability properties for the use of packaging, and reinforcing bioplastics could overcome these shortcomings [54].
Reinforced bioplastics using agricultural waste materials, such as EFB and rice straw, are used for fresh fruit packaging, and the result shows that the reinforced bioplastics could lengthen the storage life of fresh fruit through improving the permeability properties of bioplastics, which promote better air flow for fresh fruit transpiration [50]. One of the reinforced bioplastics applications in the industry is the packaging of food. For the food packaging industry, bio-based materials are preferable in reinforcing bioplastics due to safety and environmentally friendly issues. Different from packaging for fresh products, food packaging requires low permeability to prevent food rotting from moisture or gases penetrating [55]. The applications of reinforced bioplastics in food packaging include bottles for dairy products, containers, films, dishes, and bags for takeaway [55]. Other than that, fibre-reinforced PHBV was also reported to be used for active food packaging, which can increase the storage time and impart antimicrobial property to the packaging film, resulting in a higher possibility of preventing the rotting of food [56]. In addition, cellulose-based films reinforced with clay also show antimicrobial properties in packaging film developments with better properties in gas permeability and thermal stability [14]. Moreover, poly(butylene adipate-co-terephthalate) (PBAT) reinforced with thermoplastic starch (TPS) bioplastic films could reduce mold and yeast count while preventing the darkening of food, which further proved that reinforced bioplastics possess antimicrobial properties [53].
Gadhave et al. (2018) reported that the addition of acetylated starch in corn starch-based films has higher thermal stability with reinforced resistance against sealing, making it a suitable material for heat sealing packaging [57]. In the Handbook of Bioplastics and Biocomposites Engineering Applications (2011), it was stated that reinforced bioplastics could be the material for optoelectronic packaging in the future [30]. Optoelectronic packaging (OEP) is a type of electrical packaging that involves providing mechanical support, as well as electrical and optical connection, to electronic devices for the device’s continuous functionality, and the most commonly used material for this application is epoxy [30][58]. The environmentally friendly property of reinforced bioplastic also make it a suitable material for airline cosmetics packaging [59].
The summary of the applications of bioplastics and reinforced bioplastics is shown in Table 1. Table 1 depicts the application of different types of reinforced bioplastics in the replated industries. It can be seen that reinforced bioplastics have received considerable attention in relevant industries, which may be attributed to their acceptable characteristics in the application. The potential applications of reinforced bioplastics could be seen through reviewing of the applications of bioplastics and reinforced bioplastics in various industries.
Table 1. The applications of bioplastics and reinforced bioplastics in various industries.
Industries Types Applications References
Healthcare Reinforced PLA Gene delivery [10][11][12]
Tissue engineering
Shape memory
Controlled-release drug delivery
Electrical and electronic Bioplastics reinforced with CNT/cellulose nanofibre Flexible photovoltaic cells
(Solar cell)
Substrate in roll-to-roll
fabrication techniques
Graphene reinforced PLA Three-dimensional printing filament [27]
Architecture and construction Lignocellulosic fibre reinforced bioplastics Window frames and doors [36]
Stabilisers for earthen construction materials [37]
Agricultural EFB reinforced bioplastics Mulch film [46][47]
Plant nursery bags or pots [48][49]
Agricultural products packaging [50]
Packaging Bio-based ethylene glycol PepsiCo packaging [49][52]
PHA, PLA and starch Food packaging [53]
EFB or rice straw reinforced bioplastics Fresh fruit packaging [50]
Fibre reinforced PHBV Active food packaging [56]


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