Led by Western Europe, increasing regulations and bans against plastic bags and other single-use plastic items such as drinking straws are driving growing demand for biodegradable plastics, according to new analysis from IHS Markit (Englewood, CO). The current market value of biodegradable plastics exceeds $1.1 billion, and it could reach $1.7 billion by 2023, said the report.
Biodegradable or compostable polymers are bio-based or fossil-fuel-based polymers that undergo microbial decomposition to carbon dioxide and water in industrial or municipal compost facilities. A few of these polymers decompose in backyard compost bins, soil, freshwater and saltwater, said IHS Markit.
The food packaging, disposable tableware (cups, plates and cutlery) and bags sector is the largest end-use segment, as well as the major growth driver for biodegradable polymer consumption. This segment will benefit from local restrictions on plastic shopping bags and will achieve double-digit growth, said IHS Markit.
Compost bags are the second most important end use for biodegradable polymers. This market segment will experience strong growth thanks to the gradual expansion of composting infrastructure and growing interest in diverting organic waste such as leaves, grass clippings and food waste from landfill, according to the analysis.
Global demand for bioplastics currently is 360,000 metric tons; total consumption of biodegradable polymers is expected to increase to almost 550,000 metric tons by 2023, representing an average annual growth rate of 9% for the five-year period. That is equivalent to a volume increase of more than 50% from 2018 to 2023, said the report.
Western Europe, with the world’s strictest regulations for single-use plastics, commands 55% of the global market value in 2018 for these specialty biodegradable polymers, followed by Asia and Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) at 25%, North America at 19% and the rest of the world combined for less than 1%.
“Biodegradable plastics, which are largely starch-based compounds or polylactic acid (PLA)–based materials, have become more cost-competitive with petroleum-based plastics and the demand is growing significantly, particularly in Western Europe, where environmental regulations are the strictest,” said Marifaith Hackett, Director, Specialty Chemicals Research, at IHS Markit and the report’s lead author. “However, the demand for these biodegradable polymers is still a drop in the bucket when you compare it to demand for traditional plastics such as polyethylene (PE).”