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Green Matter: Bioplastics land-use statistics provide food for thought

Worried that that land use for bioplastics feedstocks competes directly with feed and food crops? No need, says European Bioplastics in its recently published booklet “Bioplastics: facts and figures”. Out of a total global agricultural area of 5 billion hectares, around 300,000 hectares are used to grow feedstocks for bioplastics: in other words, 0.006%. Metaphorically speaking, this ratio correlates to the size of an average cherry tomato placed next to the Eiffel Tower.

Karen Laird

April 9, 2013

2 Min Read
Green Matter: Bioplastics land-use statistics provide food for thought

The statistics released by European Bioplastics in the brochure are based on figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and calculations of the Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites (IfBB, University of Applied Sciences and Arts; Hannover, Germany).

In a world of fast-growing population with an increasing demand for food and feed, the use of feedstock for non-food purposes is controversial and often a subject of intense debate. This new brochure can help defuse this issue, by moving the discussion onto a factual level.

Of the 13.4 billion hectares of global land surface, around 37% (5 billion hectares) are currently used for agriculture. This includes pastures (70%, approximately 3.5 billion hectares) and arable land (30%, approximately 1.4 billion hectare).

The 30% of arable land is further divided into areas predominantly used to grow crops for food and feed (27%, approximately 1.29 billion hectares), as well as crops for materials (2%, approximately 100 million hectares, including the share used for bioplastics), and crops for biofuels (1%, approximately 55 million hectares).

Indeed, Hans-Josef Endres, director of the Institute of Bioplastics and Biocomposites, has pointed out that even in the purely hypothetical case that bioplastics would fully replace oil-based polymers, this would require a mere 5% of worldwide available arable land.

According to European Bioplastics, increasing the efficiency of feedstock and agricultural technology will be key to good agricultural practice: assuring the balance between land use for innovative bioplastics and land for food and feed. The emergence of reliable and independent sustainability certification schemes will also contribute to this goal.

The conclusion? Rationally speaking, bioplastics do not represent a threat to either food or feed crops. Emotional concerns are another matter. However, as the brochure also states, global bioplastics production capacity is set to grow 500% by 2016. Let’s make sure that we are utilizing best practices—agricultural and otherwise—so that, in the end, we can all benefit.

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