Bioplastics Symbol Offers New Way To Identify Eco-Friendly Packaging

It’s a man with a toupee doing a headstand! It’s an old-school Super Mario Bros. piranha plant! Nope -- it's actually a new symbol to help identify more eco-friendly packaging.

Cereplast, a manufacturer of bio-based, compostable plastics, has announced a new symbol to represent bioplastics. Bioplastics are considered by many to be an eco-friendly alternative to petroleum-based plastics. They are made from renewable resources such as potatoes, corn, wheat, tapioca, sugar and algae.

Cereplast held a “Make Your Mark” contest for designers to create a new symbol so that consumers could identify products and packaging made from bioplastics. The winner of the contest was Laura Howard, a graphic design student at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, who was awarded $25,000 for her design.

The competition was modeled after a 1970 contest that resulted in the globally recognized recycling symbol. One of the judges for the “Make Your Mark” competition was Dr. Gary Anderson, the creator of the recycling symbol. In a press release from Cereplast, Anderson said, "Cereplast's bioplastic symbol could likely gain traction much faster than the recycling symbol I designed, as communication in today's digital landscape runs at lightning speed compared to forty years ago.”

The new bioplastic symbol will be stamped on products in a fashion similar to the recycling symbol.

"Petroleum-based plastics can have a devastating impact on our environment. Approximately 300 million tons of plastic are produced globally each year. At these quantities, we could wrap the entire planet several times over," Frederic Scheer, Chairman and CEO of Cereplast, said in the press release. "Bioplastics offer a more respectful option for our environment, and we believe that this new symbol will help provide consumers with the tools they need to make more environmentally intelligent purchasing decisions.”

Not everyone is on board with bioplastics. Discovery News reported on a study in Environmental Science & Technology which suggests that the environmental footprint to produce the plant-based plastics may in fact be larger than the environmental costs of producing petroleum plastics. The scientists made clear that their findings did not mean that biopolymers were bad, but rather “the problem is that there are problems with them.”

Last year, TIME’s Kristina Dell wrote about both the benefits and drawbacks of bioplastic. She acknowledged that compared to regular plastics, bioplastics produce less greenhouse-gas emissions in the manufacturing process. They also don’t contain bisphenol A (BPA), unlike some regular plastics.

Dell also argues that our society may not be green enough to use bioplastics. She wrote, “Many of us still don't recycle all our bottles and cans, and now companies are expecting us to start composting?” Also, according to Dell, some consumers may have trouble disposing of their bioplastics, since the market is still considered small. But, she explains that if manufacturers adopted a uniform color for identifying bioplastic resins, many disposal issues could possibly be resolved.

The new bioplastics symbol may be a step in the right direction.