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Mass balance of plastic can accelerate the transition to bio-based raw materials

Mass balance is an interesting way to accelerate the industry’s transition to using plastic produced from sustainable, bio-based raw materials or recycled plastic.

There is now significant interest in switching from plastic produced from fossil raw materials to plastic made from more sustainable, renewable raw materials such as tall oil, used frying oil, other vegetable oil or from recycled plastic. However, transitioning the entire industry to only use sustainable raw materials is a huge change that can’t be made, either economically or practically, in the short term.

The mass balance approach to plastics has emerged to accelerate this transition and make it possible to do this gradually. This approach is an important milestone on the path to bio-based, circular use of plastic. In simple terms, the mass balance approach is when, together with one of our customers, we decide to manufacture a product in bioplastic and order that amount of bioplastic granules from one of our raw-material suppliers. Our supplier, in turn, buys in the corresponding amount of bio-based raw material, mixes this with fossil raw materials and produces the granules that we use in our injection-molding machines. 

Our granules then consist of a mix of bio-based and fossil raw materials. The exact same mix is also supplied to the raw material producer’s customers that did not order bio-based raw material. So although the product we manufacture is not manufactured from pure bio-based raw materials, we know that a corresponding amount of bio-based plastic will be used overall in the plastics industry. This means the decision to use bio-based raw materials has increased the use of sustainable raw materials around the world and reduced the use of fossil raw materials to a corresponding extent.

“This approach is very similar to developments in global electricity production,” says Glenn Svedberg, Director of Sustainable Affairs at Nolato. “It’s the same electricity in the cables to your house, whether or not you pay for green electricity, but your order to the electricity company to only purchase electricity produced from renewable sources like wind, hydro and solar means the overall mix is slightly greener for everyone.”

But using the mass balance approach to plastic doesn’t work equally well in all situations. “We find it’s mainly in single-use medical products and packaging that mass balance works best, as it’s easiest to calculate what percentage of bio-based raw material the client can label their final product as,” says Glenn. 

Within Nolato, Gothenburg-based Nolato Plastteknik has been certified by the regulatory body International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) for the use of mass balance for the manufacture of plastic packaging. Nolato Plastteknik’s customers that also have ISCC certification or licensing can then tell their end customers that, for example, three of the company’s products are made from bio-based plastic at the percentage that the company opted to buy. This is a purely mathematical calculation, as all versions of the packaging are in fact manufactured from the same plastic.

Nolato Cerbo in Trollhättan, which manufactures pharmaceutical packaging, will also start using the mass balance approach for the production of Cerbo Classic containers. They have undergone ISCC certification and should achieve certification by the end of 2022.

The advantages for customers in the pharma industry is that they can increase the percentage of renewable raw materials without needing to undergo new trials of the containers by global authorities. That saves a lot of money and, above all, time.


  • Sustainability
  • Nolato
  • Nolato Cerbo
  • Nolato Plastteknik
  • Automotive
  • Pharma packaging
  • Nolato Magasin

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