This is actually a complex question, that needs breaking down.

  • Firstly, bioplastic is a material that will last for hundreds of years, so not something that should ever be bought with the idea of throwing it away in a couple of years and certainly not after one use.
  • Secondly, you can’t throw bioplastic away in the recycling, because no one is recycling bioplastic at the moment, and if you do throw it in with the plastic recycling, it will ruin the whole batch. So it can only be burnt or thrown in landfill at the end of its use – unless it can be repurposed. 

So first response, is “no”, its not a sustainable material to make toys from, currently. Some companies are undoubtedly using bioplastic as an eco product to increase their sales, and maybe even to increase the price, my opinion is that this is not ethical, in my opinion its “green-wash”. When companies say products “Can be recycled” that is an “in theory” comment, mostly not born out in practice. No one that I know is separating bioplastic waste  from oil-based plastic in order to throw it away. Do you have a bioplastic recycling facility in your location?

However, lets look at this in more detail.

What are bioplastics  made of, where and how? Can they be recycled or reused, perhaps sent back to the manufacturers to re-use?

Bioplastics are not made of oil, which is good because as we know, oil is a finite resource, once its gone its gone, so its better not to use oil for anything that we don’t absolutely have to. Plus when we burn any kind of plastic it produces carbon dioxide, which is  causing damaging climate change, so we don’t want to do that, however we can burn it more safely in a commercial incinerator that prevents the gas escape, so its not a total disaster. Growing anything is good for oxygen production and absorbing carbon dioxide,  and that includes the products made into bioplastic, its just the making it into the bioplastic and what happens when we don’t want it any more that is the problem! There are better things to grow however than products for bioplastics, such as food, and more effective carbon dioxide absorbers like trees.

Bioplastics can be made from a large number of products such as sugar, corn, vegetable oil, recycled food waste, and agricultural by-products … even plastic bottles and other containers. They may not be 100% bioplastics. So if you want to check the product you are thinking of buying then you need to find out what the bioplastic it is being made from.

I would try and avoid a bioplastic that is:

  • Made of food – that should be eaten not make into plastic. (food waste is better)
  • Grown in areas that should be rainforest or trees – we shouldn’t be cutting down trees, they make more oxygen than sugar etc. plus they provide habitats for animals and insects.
  • Plants that have been doused in pesticides, herbicides, hormones, carcinogenics etc. that could be toxic if put into plastic that our children then handle and put in their mouths but may also be responsible for extinction of species.

Plus do we trust the labelling – because if the manufacturer is touting bioplastic as the eco choice, when it is SO far from perfect, how can we believe the rest?

Single-use aprons are even less necessary than gloves and we do not order any more at all now. If colleagues are concerned about being sprayed or sprinkled with urine during a nappy change they need to pay more attention to avoid that (watch for the warning signs, and place nappy in appropriate area to block the spray) and/or wear an apron that they can wipe down or wash between changes if this happens, which is easier and quicker than changing clothes.

Plastic one-use aprons are certainly not necessary for food service either, but again if you have children inclined to throw food or projectile vomit you might want to wear washable overalls, aprons or tabards to protect your clothes and prevent cross contamination when handling other children. At Tops we bought some attractive pink fabric aprons for general use, and also have some vinyl wipe down/washable aprons available.

In any case, products should be wrapped and delivered in cardboard, NOT in an unmarked crinkly plastic bag that could end up in landfill.

Cheryl Hadland

Cheryl Hadland

GECCO Founder & Trustee

Cheryl Hadland (MA Ed) is Managing Director of the Hadland Care Group – an umbrella company for Tops Day Nurseries and Aspire Training Team, Bournemouth. In 2018 she was named ‘most influential person in childcare’ at the NMT Top 20 National Nursery awards, and in the same year completed a Sustainable Leadership course at the University of Cambridge. Cheryl is an avid SCUBA diver with many years experience and has seen first-hand the devastating impact of plastic pollution on our oceans and the creatures that inhabit them.