Non-biodegradable bioplastics lead market growth

By Posted by Lisa McTigue Pierce, Editor in Smart Packaging on October 09, 2012


An above-average positive development in bioplastics production capacity has made past projections obsolete. The market of around 1.2 million tonnes in 2011 will see a fivefold increase in production volumes by 2016—to an anticipated almost 6 million tonnes. This is the result of the current market forecast, which the industry association European Bioplastics publishes annually in cooperation with the Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites from the University of Hannover.


The worldwide production capacity for bioplastics will increase from around 1.2 million tonnes in 2011 to approximately 5.8 million tonnes by 2016. By far the strongest growth will be in the biobased, non-biodegradable bioplastics group. Especially the so-called "drop-in" solutions—that is, biobased versions of bulk plastics like PE and PET—that merely differ from their conventional counterparts in terms of their renewable raw material base, are building up large capacities. Leading the field is partially biobased PET, which is already accounting for approximately 40 percent of the global bioplastics production capacity. Partially biobased PET will continue to extend this lead to more than 4.6 million tonnes by 2016. That would correspond to 80 percent of the total bioplastics production capacity. Following PET is biobased PE with 250,000 tonnes, constituting more than 4 percent of the total production capacity.


"But also biodegradable plastics are demonstrating impressive growth rates. Their production capacity will increase by two-thirds by 2016," states Hasso von Pogrell, managing director of European Bioplastics. Leading contributors to this growth will be PLA and PHA, each of them accounting for 298,000 tonnes (+50 percent) and 142,000 tonnes (+550 percent) respectively.


"The enormous growth makes allowance for the constantly increasing demand for sustainable solutions in the plastics market. Eventually, bioplastics have achieved an established position in numerous application areas, from the packaging market to the electronics sector and the automotive industry," says von Pogrell.



Bioplastics share of material types 2016


A disturbing trend to be observed is the geographic distribution of production capacities. Europe and North America remain interesting as locations for research and development and also important as sales markets. However, establishment of new production capacities is favoured in South America and Asia.


"European Bioplastics invites European policy makers to convert their declared interest into concrete measures. "We are seeing many general supportive statements at EU level and in the Member States," says Andy Sweetman, chairman of European Bioplastics. "There is, however, a lack of concrete measures. If Europe wants to profit from growth at all levels of the value chain in our industry, it is high time the corresponding decisions are made."


For a more in-depth impression of the world of bioplastics, visit the 7th European Bioplastics Conference on Nov. 6-7, 2012, in Berlin. With more than 400 experts on hand, the European Bioplastics Conference is the leading industry event in Europe.


Market data charts can be downloaded in English and German here at


Moreover, deeper insights and extensive additional data are provided in the complete market study of the Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites of Hannover University. These will be available at the institute soon.


Source: European Bioplastics




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Why would anyone want to pay up to 400% more for bio-based plastics? It is not "renewable." Consider the non-renewable fossil fuels consumed and CO2 emitted by the machines used to clear the land, plough the land, harrow the land, sow the seed, make the fertilisers and pesticides and bring them to the farm, spray the crops, harvest the crops, take the crops to a polymerisation factory, and operate the autoclaves. It is true that growing crops absorb some CO2, but so did the vegetation that was there before. It is wrong to use land and water resources to grow crops to make plastic. Those resources should be used to produce food for the many people in the world who do not have enough to eat. Ordinary plastic and oxo-biodegradable plastic are made from a by-product of oil which used to be wasted, and it makes sense to use it instead of using land and water resources to produce plastic. Oil is extracted to make petrol, diesel, and aviation fuel, and not a single barrel of oil has ever been extracted for the purpose of making plastic. Feedstock to make plastic is for all practical purposes unlimited. Bio-based plastic should not be described as “biodegradable” because it will fragment in the open environment but will readily biodegrade only in the special conditions found in industrial composting. It does not therefore address the problem of plastic litter in the open environment. It is misleading to describe this type of plastic as “compostable.” When something is described as compostable an ordinary consumer would think that it can be converted into compost, but the Standards for this type of plastic (ASTM D6400, EN13432 etc.) require it to convert into CO2 gas within 180 days. You cannot therefore make compost from it – only CO2 gas. This process contributes to climate change but does nothing for the soil. “Compostable plastics” will emit methane in anaerobic conditions in landfill, and methane is an even more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. This is acceptable if the landfill is designed to collect the gas, but many of these plastics will not be sent to a composting factory, and how does anyone know which type of landfill will be their ultimate destination. Some further points about bio-based “compostable” plastic: a) It is generally thicker and heavier, so it needs more trucks to transport it, using more road space, consuming more fuel, and emitting more CO2 and other forms of pollution to atmosphere. b) It cannot be recycled with ordinary plastics, so anyone who is in favour of recycling should be against it. c) Bio-based plastic will not comply with the laws of the United Arab Emirates and other countries which require all short-life plastics to be oxo-biodegradable. d) An LCA by Intertek, published by the UK Government in 2011 and a further LCA by Intertek in 2012 found that ordinary plastic and oxo-bio plastic has a better LCA than compostable plastic or paper bags.