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Prepare for a Bioplastics Boom

by Green Plastics


The European Bioplastics industry association has released results of a market forecast published yearly in cooperation with the University of Hanover Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites that predicts that the production values within the industry are set to increase by a factor of five by 2016.

The study shows that around 1.2 million tons of bioplastic production capacity was online last year and that this figure is likely to swell to 5.8 million tons within the next four years. With global awareness of other environmental issues, such as reducing carbon footprints and the need for more sustainable energy, growing rapidly, it is little wonder that more and more companies are turning to bioplastics as a greener alternative to conventional plastics.

Non-Biodegradable Bioplastics Predicted for Largest Increase

According to European Bioplastics, the largest growth is likely to be in the production of non-biodegradable bioplastics, most significantly biobased polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). These are plastics that are made from renewable resources, such as crops or algae, but that are processed in a way that renders them non-biodegradable.

Global plastics industry newspaper Plastics News states that partially biobased PET currently accounts for an estimated two fifths of global bioplastics production capacity. European Bioplastics’ forecast predicts that the production capacity for biobased PET will continue to grow through 2016, reaching just over four and a half million tons, or four-fifths of total bioplastic production capacity. Managing director of European Bioplastics Hasso von Pogrell states that the production capacity of biodegradable bioplastics will also carry on increasing. He says that their production capacity will increase by forty percent by 2016, with biobased polylactic acid and polyhydroxyalkanoate leading this increase.

The report carried out by Hasso von Pogrell’s organisation shows that bioplastic production has increased significantly over the course of the past couple of years, growing from just under 250,000 tons in 2009 to 1.6 million tons in 2011. In 2011, non-biodegradable bioplastics comprised around fifty-eight percent of production capacity, with biobased PET comprising just under two fifths of that capacity. Biodegradable bioplastic production was responsible for just under forty-two percent of production capacity, with biobased polyactic acid comprising the biggest proportion of that capacity at just over sixteen percent. By 2016, non-biodegradable bioplastics are predicted to account for just over eighty-six percent of production capacity, with biobased PET increasing to more than four fifths of that total. Biodegradable bioplastics are predicted to comprise thirteen percent of bioplastic production capacity, with biobased polyactic acid making up just over five percent of that capacity.

High Bioplastic Production Capacity in Asia

The report also demonstrates that Asia had the highest bioplastic production capacity online last year, with just under thirty four and a half percent. The relative totals for Europe, South America, Australia and North America were 18.5 percent, 32.8 percent, 0.4 percent and 13.7 percent. In 2016, Asia is predicted to be home to 46.3 percent of the global bioplastic production capacity. South America is projected to have nearly as much capacity in place, with just over forty-five percent. Australia, North America and Europe are predicted to represent a relative 0.2 percent, 3.5 percent and 4.9 percent of global production capacity. Chairman of European Bioplastics Andy Sweetman has expressed his disappointment that Europe is lagging behind Asia and South America to such a great degree when it comes to bioplastic production capacities. He says that, whilst many statements are made by those in the EU with regards to bioplastics, there is a lack of implementation of concrete measures. Sweetman says that it is time the ‘corresponding decisions are made’ if Europe wishes to profit from the growth in the bioplastics industry.

European Bioplastics have expressed the viewpoint that they find the geographic distribution of production capacities towards South America and Asia and away from Europe to be a cause for concern, describing it as a ‘disturbing trend.’ Overall the association remains extremely pleased with the growth in the bioplastics industry though, with Hasso von Pogrell expressing his pleasure that bioplastics have been so successful that they have achieved established positions in a wide variety of different application areas, ranging from the automotive industry and the electronics sector to the packaging market.

This is good news for the bioplastics industry and also good news for everybody who is concerned about the environment and supports the popularization of materials that are more ecologically sound than conventional plastics.

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