Bioplastics: when innovation empowers abundance, La Coppa

Plastics are indispensable to our daily lives. They come in every colour and shape, light, strong, resistant, tremendously useful for every person and industry. Plastics have come to stay.

The vast majority of plastics are oil-based. Around 4% of the oil that the world uses every year goes into producing plastics. Their composition has been both its strength and its weakness. The challenges of climate change and fossil fuel scarcity are putting the plastics industry under pressure. In addition, the ever-growing and widespread plastic waste problem is no longer possible to ignore.

In this setting, bioplastics are a great alternative allowing both for high-quality performance and widespread use while having a reduced environmental impact.

Bioplastics are totally or partly made from biomass (plants), mostly corn, sugarcane or cellulose plant fibers. Although there are several varieties of bioplastics, only a few are fully made of renewable, natural resources. The 100% plant-based plastics are the only variety that at the end of their useful life will decompose into water, carbon and compost (i.e. are compostable/ biodegradable). Ideally, the decomposition will take place at an industrial facility and will be catalysed by fungi, bacteria and enzymes, leaving no toxic particles or harmful substances behind.

New materials such as PLA, PHA or starch-based materials create truly bio-compostable packaging solutions.

Closing the loop on plastics

Advanced Technology Innovations, a company that provides innovative packaging solutions for food and beverages, developed a system for coffee cups made of plant-based plastics (PLA), namely produced from the residue of sugarcane and sugar beet.

One of our clients, LaCoppa coffee adopted this innovation showing their leadership in sustainable packaging in the consumer goods industry.

The fully compostable coffee capsule can be used in espresso machines, proving that it is possible to replace petroleum-based and aluminium coffee capsules with a fully functional, more sustainable alternative that should be widely adopted.


Others leading the change

Many industries are already using bioplastics. Not only traditional industries, such as food packaging but also automotive, electronics and textiles. Several leading brands, such as Tetra Pak, Ecover and Danone are investing in new bioplastics solutions. Unexpected partnerships are also arising: Heinz approached Ford about possible uses for its tomato waste. Ford was already using bioplastics based on soy and coconut for its auto components, carpeting and seat fabrics; why not explore the use of ketchup bi-products to develop a more sustainable bioplastic material? Specifically, it is expected that this new bioplastic could be used in wiring brackets and material for onboard vehicle storage bins.

Work in progress

While great opportunities and fast growth await bioplastics, this is a work in progress.

For bioplastics to become a truly sustainable alternative both the industry and governments need to make technical adjustments to the current waste streams to allow for an adequate treatment of bioplastics. Otherwise these will end up in the landfill.

Engagement with the final consumer is also crucial to promote education on bioplastics and recycling. Consumers should avoid contaminating plastic waste recycling with bioplastics, as it will compromise the plastic recycling process.

Finally, in order to gain widespread support, the bioplastics industry should increasingly use food waste residues (from pineapple fibers to shrimp shells), non-food crops or cellulosic biomass, leading to decreased land-use demand by the industry. Innovative alternatives are endless.

The future of plastics

Biodegradable bioplastics are a growing niche market. According to European Bioplastics, the global bioplastics production capacity is set to grow 300% by 2018. This growth will lead to a new generation of plastics, where abundance of plastics is powered by innovation. Oh, and it is sustainable!

Planned obsolescence and a 3D printed solution

Here at The Terrace, we are dreamers, we are thinkers and we work hard for positive change. The process from idea to detailed action plan has many phases. Some start on a small bench in the park, others with a nice phone call or after an interesting meeting. But all projects have a moment where we gather in out meeting room for a joint brainstorm session. We have our notebooks, our critical remarks, we laugh, have intense discussion and we vividly visualize everything on our NOBO© Flip chart. Till the day came when the connection part between the writing board and undercarriage broke.

Without this small piece, the flip chart became more or less useless. If we wouldn’t be The Terrace we would put the remaining parts outside, next to the garbage for the Tuesday evening pick-up, buy a €200,- new one and happily go on with our lives. But we are The Terrace and also for in-house challenges we seek circular solutions. This is not a grand story how we saved the world, but it’s the story of how we repaired our loved flip chart.

We don’t give you life-challenging answers, but at least we hope to inspire you to see your office equipment in a different way and think again, before you throw it away. And maybe, during the process, we can raise awareness that the production of office equipment, and production in general could shift to a more sustainable and circular model.

And so our journey begins…

Fien started with the main office suppliers in the Netherlands; Manutan, Staples and Viking. They did not deliver the part we needed without the whole flip chart. We tried the repair service, mentioned on the NOBO© website. They only repaired their beamers. In the mean time we had also contacted the NOBO© Europe customer service. When their reply finally came it was a ‘not deliverable’. This was simply not acceptable. In a time where sustainability and resource scarcity are high on the agenda we couldn’t just throw away the old and buy the new, because simply one part, nevertheless essential, was missing? I shared my worries with the customer service and after ten emails and fifteen days they send a request to the factory in China to send a spare part.

We still did not have my connection part. Bummer. I also hadn’t sit still. Meanwhile I contacted 3D Hubs if they could maybe ‘print’ me a new part for my flip chart. Unfortunately I didn’t have a STL. file (which you need to print 3D), but they linked me to a company, Van Alles Wat Ontwerp, who could design the STL.file of my connection part and print it. So with a hopeful hart I send the broken part to Van Alles Wat Ontwerp.

Nobo2 Nobo3 

A week later we received, neatly and well fabricated our missing link of the NOBO© Flip chart. Now happily in use again.

But this keeps you wondering, doesn’t it? How can something so simple, be so complicated? Why don't companies repair services or spare parts? Most products have planned obsolescence, which means that they are designed to break down after a certain period. This cannot be the right way forward. We strongly believe that in rethinking your client journey, you tap into new business opportunities while lowering the stuff we needlessly throw out. WIN-WIN!

If you also have a broken connection part of the NOBO© Piranha Flip chart, please feel free to contact us for the STL.file, we love to share!

Feeling the fixing vibes? Here are some options for help:

Van Alles Wat Ontwerp – design & 3D printing
3D Hubs – 3D printing
Repair Cafe – Repair (almost) everything

Want to know more about planned obsolescence? This is an interesting item on ‘made to break’ by Economische Zaken from the VARA: (In Dutch)