Industry predicts bioplastics market growth

The global bioplastics industry is on course to increase its production capacity by 300,000 tonnes over the next five years, according to the annual European Bioplastics’ market data update, but this will pale in comparison to global primary plastic production.

Presented today (4 December) at the 14th European Bioplastics Conference in Berlin, the data revealed that the global bioplastics production capacity is set to increase from around 2.1 million tonnes in 2019 to 2.4 million tonnes in 2024, with bio-based versions of polymers such as polypropylene (PP) and natural polymers such as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) driving the predicted growth.

Production capacities for PHAs, which are bio-based and biodegradable, are set to more than triple in the next five years, whilst production capacities for PP are expected to almost sextuple by 2024.

A Mater-Bi compostable carrier bag.Bio-based, non-biodegradable plastics, including the drop-in solutions bio-based polyethylene (PE) and bio-based PET (polyethylene terephthalate), as well as bio-based polyamides (PA), currently make up around 44 per cent of the global bioplastics production capacities.

However, despite the welcome predicted growth in bioplastics, the market share remains in the long shadow of primary plastics. More than 300 million tonnes of virgin plastic are produced every year, and this is expected to increase by some 50 million tonnes over the next five years. The challenge for bioplastics is compounded by the continuing fall in the price of virgin plastics, with PET falling below £1,100 per tonne in June.

In recent years, increased focus has been placed on the development of polyethylene furanoate (PEF), a new polymer set to enter the market in 2023. PEF is similar to PET, but is fully bio-based and, with strong barrier and thermal properties, is ideal for beverage bottles.

In terms of regional markets, Asia remains a major production hub, producing over 45 per cent of global bioplastics. 20 per cent of the current production capacity is located in Europe, with this share expected to increase to 30 per cent by 2024.

Hasso von Pogrell, Managing Director of European Bioplastics, said: “In an increasingly environmentally-conscious environment, the global market for bioplastics is predicted to grow by more than 15 per cent over the next five years.

“This trend is possible thanks to the steadily increasing demand for sustainable products by both consumers and brands alike and the continuous efforts of the bioplastics industry to develop innovative materials with improved properties and functionalities.”

According to the market data update, the land used to grow renewable feedstock for the production of bioplastic is estimated at 0.7 hectares in 2019, accounting for only 0.02 per cent of the global agriculture area. As the bioplastic market continues to grow over the next five years, the land use share for bioplastics will remain at around 0.02 per cent.

Francois de Bie, Chairman of European Bioplastics, explained: “The data shows once more that there is no competition between renewable feedstock for food and feed, and the use for bioplastics. 94 per cent of all arable land is used for pasture, feed and food.”

The growth in the market is especially pronounced when looking at sales of PLA and bioplastics for film. “The real news is that the producers of bioplastics have nearly sold out of a lot of their product,” says David Newman, Managing Director of the Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association (BBIA). “PLA is unavailable totally until perhaps 2021/22 and bioplastics for films are all really selling very fast.

On future growth he added: “The scale of production facilities for bioplastics is still very small when compared to traditional plastics – a plant of 30,000 tons is considered large. The industry will scale up but it will be another decade before we see any significant production and market shift and I guess we may reach five million tonnes by 2030 if all goes well.”

Despite limited market share, bio-based and biodegradable plastics have an increasingly important role to play. Seeking to end reliance on fossil fuel resources, the UK Government launched its Bioeconomy Strategy in December 2018, which stresses that bioplastics will be crucial in the advancement of a circular, low carbon economy.

Earlier this year, the government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) launched a drive to encourage innovation in bioplastics, investing £60 million in research and development. The government has also released a call for evidence on standards for bio-based and biodegradable plastics, seeking evidence from scientists, manufacturers and the research community on the sustainability, wider impacts and end-of-life destinations of these new materials.

You can read the market data report in full on the European Bioplastics website.

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