A Story of Plastics becoming Bio-plastics: Constructing Bioplastic-ness

Tönük Kruithof D., Fisher T.

110th CAA Annual Conference, Illinois, United States Of America, 3 - 05 March 2022, pp.158

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Summary Text
  • City: Illinois
  • Country: United States Of America
  • Page Numbers: pp.158
  • Middle East Technical University Affiliated: Yes


This paper revisits histories of plastics and presents the recent history of Bioplastics. From examples of the first industrially produced plastics, which had bio-origins, through to the crisis of the petrochemical plasticene, to a ‘fresh’ start in bioplastics, we follow oscillations in the valuation of materials and their significance that are closely tied to understandings of nature. Although the first industrially produced plastics, Cellophane and Celluloid, were bio-sourced it is only recently that plastics have become ‘bio’, following their condemnation as environmental hazards. We focus on the interface between materials and products to offer a material based social-history. In these tales of material development, certain aspects of bioplastics are made visible or invisible, they are recursively made in provisional and temporally specific material-product relationships, that emphasise and obscure various moral and ethical elements. We show this by discussing four example products to show different modes ofmaterial-product making that we name redefining, positioning-repositioning, and dispositioning. A 2012 waste bag made for the municipality of Milan mobilises ‘compostability’ to define bioplastic round new social and material relations. A coffee pod positions ‘compostability’ in a ‘issuefied’ material-product combination. A‘biobased’ bottle shifts the focus to the attachment of qualities to the source material, repositioning the object through the concerns that the material invokes. A salad bowl by Zuperzozial visually emphasises the ‘bio’ qualities of the material configuring a distinct identity and iconography for biobased-ness. Other applications of ‘bio’ plastic construct the material as invisible, ‘dispositioning’ them from a ‘bio’ identity.