Bioplastics industry continues to expand despite low oil prices

The bioplastics industry is continuing to see stable growth despite falling oil prices, representing a positive shift in business attitudes towards manufacturing low-carbon, resource-efficient products. and a lack of stronger political support to realise the potential of bio-based materials in Europe.

Data presented at the European Bioplastics Conference in Berlin this week reveals that the market for biodegradable plastic derived from biological substances rather than petroleum is expected to grow by another 50% over the coming years, even though oil prices continue to tumble.

Bioplastics production will increase from 4.2 million tonnes in 2016 to more than 6.1 million tonnes in 2021, according to the European Bioplastics data, compiled in co-operation with the Nova-Institute research group.

Chairman of European Bioplastics François de Bie said: “The data illustrates an important trend, driven by changing consumer demands, to make plastic products more resource efficient and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the dependency on fossil resources.

“This trend is the 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 the circular economy in mind.”

The largest bioplastics market is packaging, representing almost 40% (1.6 million tonnes) of the total bioplastics market this year. Many other sectors have seen an increase in uptake of bioplastics, including consumer goods (with a 22% market share in 2016), the automotive and transport sector (14% share) and the building and construction sector (13% share).

By the year 2021, more than 45% of bioplastics will be produced in Asia, with around a quarter of production capacity located in Europe.

But the global growth of bioplastics is being slowed somewhat by the record-low oil prices and a general lack of political support for further expansion of the industry, European Bioplastics claims. Bioplastics offer a viable solutions to shape a sustainable plastics economy and can play a key role in the transformation to a completely bio-based economy, the organisation says.

A report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation at the beginning of the year called for “moon shot” innovations to make plastics more closed-loop compatible and reduce the shocking amount of ocean pollution, which could save up to $120bn for the global economy.

Some breakthroughs have been made since. For example, the developers of a packaging polymer that is both 100% recyclable and 100% biodegradable in standard waste management facilities claim their new material could help to pave the way for the much-needed circular economy for plastic packaging.

Alex Baldwin

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