Acceptable or weird? Exploring environmentalists’, students’ and the general public’s perceptions of bio-based plastics

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Bio-based plastics are produced from bio-based raw materials such as sugar cane, potatoes, corn, agricultural and slaughterhouse waste. In 2016, around 4.2 million tonnes of bio-based plastics were produced annually and this is expected to increase (1). The evolution of the bio-based plastic market is affected by the stakeholders involved. Consequently, this exploratory study evaluated in detail the impact of prices and ethical values on bio-based plastics in three groups: environmentalists; university students and consumers (general public) in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Focus groups were organised, with 25 participants in total, in which fossil-based and bio-based plastic samples were presented.
Qualitative analysis showed that environmentalists were aware that bio-based plastics can result in reduction in use of fossil fuels, increased utilisation of agricultural land for producing biomass substrates, and could disturb the current recycling of plastics, inhibiting the closure of plastic cycles. Although there was general lack of familiarity among students and consumers, after being provided with explanations they conveyed that use of agricultural waste will result in circularity of biomass sources. Among our participants, alarms were raised about contamination of food with bio-based packaging prepared from slaughterhouse waste, demonstrating sensitivity in relation to food issues. However, the same participants found it agreeable if slaughterhouse waste was used in the production of bio-based plastic for non-food contact items, e.g. chairs and pots.
Most of the environmentalists were willing to pay few extra pence for bio-based plastics. The students and consumers were reluctant to pay extra and communicated that this may be a way for green-washing of products (2). Our findings build on previous work (3) by investigating for the first time the perceptions of stakeholders along with consumers. Moreover, our study analysed the effect of pricing and personal ethical values on bio-based plastics. We concluded that once the participants are shown with actual samples or real products; they combine their perception of the appearance, usability, durability, shelf-life, price, and proportion of bio-based material. Regardless of perceived issues there was consensus among the groups that bio-based plastics are a step in the right direction. This research could inform future communications on bio-based plastics with both the public and industry.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGrantham Centre for Sustainable Futures
Publication statusAccepted - 31 Jan 2020
EventCreative Circular Economy Approaches to Eliminate Plastics Waste Conference - University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom
Duration: 08 Jun 202009 Jun 2020


ConferenceCreative Circular Economy Approaches to Eliminate Plastics Waste Conference
CountryUnited Kingdom


  • Bio-based plastics; Focus group discussions; Public attitudes; Stakeholders’ perception; Green image

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