Bioplastics demand will grow, but not all bioplastics are created equal

If you are placing a long-term bet on bioplastics' use in packaging, then place your marker on plastics based on renewable and sustainable materials, and not those whose sustainability stems from their biodegradability or compostability. That's among the conclusions highlighted in a report that examines the bioplastics market and makes predictions for its growth out to 2020.

According to the report, entitled "The Future of Bioplastics for Packaging to 2020: Global Market Forecasts" and available from Pira International, global demand for bioplastic packaging is forecast to reach 884,000 tonnes by 2020. This translates to a compound annual growth rate of 24.9% from 2010-15 slowing to a CAGR of 18.3% in the five years to 2020. According to the study, a new breed of bioplastics will be major drivers as packaging market demand gradually shifts from biodegradable and compostable polymers towards biopackaging based on renewable and sustainable materials.

MPW has reported extensively on this new breed of materials, including in detailed coverage of Braskem, the Brazilian plastics and chemicals supplier that now offers grades of polyethylene in which the ethylene is derived from sugar cane. Tetra Pak and P&G are among brand owners who are testing the supplier's "green" polyethylene this year.

The Pira-authored report identifies about 50 suppliers of biopolymers for packaging, and presents technology and market forecasts to 2020 for bioplastics packaging by product type, end-use sector, pack type and geographic region. Bioplastics are defined in the report as materials that are either biodegradable and compostable and derived from both renewable and non-renewable sources, or materials that are non-biodegradable and derived from renewable resources.

From 2010 bioplastics technology is expected to change with the commercialization of bioplastics produced directly by natural/genetically modified (GM) organisms and the introduction by Braskem and others of non-biodegradable, bio-derived polyethylene (PE). Pira expects these materials will account for a quarter of total bioplastic packaging market demand by 2020. Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) are forecast to achieve a CAGR of 41% and bio-derived PE a whopping 83% over the period.

Traditional bioplastic packaging technologies based on starch, cellulose and polyester are each forecast to show a decline in market share to 2020.

Bioplastics packaging is a highly concentrated market with the top five suppliers currently accounting for more than 50% of bioplastics packaging market demand. Pira predicts major changes among the leading ranks of bioplastics packaging suppliers in the next five to ten years. Large petrochemical companies including Braskem, Dow Chemicals and Solvay are scheduled to commence bio-derived PE production by 2012 at industrial-scale facilities in Brazil, which will propel these into the top rank of bioplastics producers over the next five years. Telles, the joint venture PHA supplier between Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Metabolix, is also expected to become a major world player, reports Pira. Several Chinese companies are investing in capacity expansion programs that could propel them into leading market positions.

According to the study, major new technologies will emerge over the next ten years. Several companies are exploring the development of bioplastics using carbon dioxide as a raw material. The potential for a process that converts waste carbon dioxide into a useful product is huge, but whether the material produced using this technique will prove commercially viable will ultimately depend on whether these new polymers are cost effective to produce. A new sugar-based bioplastic that can be sourced from non-food crops and produced via a low energy process is also tipped to reach the market within the next five years.

Rigid packaging has a projected share of 52.0% of the bioplastic packaging market in 2010, according to Pira, with flexible packaging accounting for the remaining 48.0%. Retail and foodservice trays and containers are the largest single pack type for bioplastic packaging, followed by flexible film. Pira expects flexible packaging to take a growing share of the bioplastic packaging market over the next five to ten years. Adam Page, head of information at Pira, explains, "Demand will be driven by the commercialization of bio-derived PE and PHA, and the wider availability and improved properties for biaxially oriented PLA (BOPLA) film."

Europe is the largest regional market for bioplastic packaging with over half of world tonnage in 2010. It benefits from favorable consumer and retail attitudes to sustainable packaging, supportive government policies towards packaging waste recycling and a well-developed composting infrastructure. Although North America currently trails Europe in terms of bioplastic packaging consumption, government and consumer attitudes are changing. Pira expects North America and Asia to show higher growth rates than Europe for bioplastics packaging over the forecast period. Japan accounts for the lion's share of Asian bioplastics packaging, mostly as a result of favorable government initiatives supporting bioplastic market development.

The report is available now with more information available at the Pira website.

 

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