Packaging professionals can expect to see an increase in biodegradable plastics over the next five years.

The results of European Bioplastics annual market data update predict growth of 20 per cent over the next five years for the global market.

François de Bie, chairman of European Bioplastics, says, “The transition to a low-carbon and circular economy, stronger policy support for the bio-economy, and an increased consumer awareness for sustainable products and packaging are driving the expansion.”

Global bioplastics production capacity looks set to increase from around 2.05 million tonnes in 2017 to approximately 2.44 million tonnes in 2022. New bio-polymers such as PLA (polylactic acid) and PHAs (polyhydroxyalkanoates) comprise the main drivers of this growth in the field of bio-based, biodegradable plastics. PHAs boast 100 percent bio-based biodegradability and feature an array of physical and mechanical properties depending on their chemical composition. PLA comes in grades that can replace polystyrene, polypropylene, and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene in more demanding applications.

Bio-based, non-biodegradable plastics, including the drop-in solutions bio-based PE (polyethylene) and bio-based PET (polyethylene terephthalate), as well as bio-based PA (polyamides), currently make up for around 56 percent of the global bioplastics production capacities. Bio-based PE production will continue to grow. Bio-based PET has not increased. The focus has shifted to the development of PEF (polyethylene furanoate), a new polymer expected to enter the market in 2020. PEF, comparable to PET but 100 percent bio-based, features superior barrier and thermal properties for packaging drinks, food and non-food products. In 2022, bio-based PP should enter the market on a commercial scale with a strong growth potential due to the widespread application of PP in a wide range of sectors.

Packaging remains the largest field of application for bioplastics with almost 60 percent of the total bioplastics market in 2017. The data also confirms that bioplastics materials already in use in other sectors including textiles, consumer goods and applications in the automotive and transport sector and the agriculture and horticulture sector. With a view to regional capacity development, Asia remains a major production hub with over 50 percent of bioplastics currently produced there.

François de Bie says, “Over the past ten years, the bioplastics industry has flourished and developed into a fast-growing innovative sector. We are witnessing a growing number of major brands switching from fossil-based to bio-based materials or to offer biodegradable solutions for their products in response to the increased consumer demand for more sustainable products and an overall change in awareness about the impacts of consumption choices on the environment. The bioplastics industry is able to meet the increased demand as a result of substantial investments in research and development by the many innovative small and large companies that concentrate their strengths on the development of bio-based products designed with a circular economy in mind.”

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