That’s according to European Bioplastics’ latest annual market data update, which shows that capacity will increase from around 1.6 million tonnes in 2013 to approximately 6.7 million tonnes in 2018.

Figures suggest Asia will become a chief production hub, with countries such as Thailand, India and China producing about 75% of bioplastics by 2018. Europe, currently a major driver in research and development (R&D), will retain only 8% of the production capacity.

European Bioplastics chairman François de Bie said: “We urge the EU legislators to consider and make efficient use of the immense environmental, economic growth and job creation potential of our industry. In this context, the Circular Economy Package should remain in the Commission’s 2015 Work Programme and the Waste Target Review should proceed as planned.”

Sustainable alternative

Bioplastics are produced using renewable resources such as corn starch and sugarcane. Many are biodegradable which means they offer a sustainable alternative to conventional plastic and provide a wider range of end-of-life options.

The production of biobased PE (polyethylene) and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) are increasing the most – PLA (Polylactide) being a major growth driver in the field of biobased and biodegradable plastics.

Locally-produced renewable and compostable plastics will benefit from the new EU legislation on the use of single-use plastic carrier bags, and both flexible and rigid packaging will remain the leading application field for bioplastics.

De Bie said: “Besides this, a decisive growth can be observed in textiles and automotive applications. From functional sports garments with enhanced breathability to fuel lines – bioplastics are constantly spreading into new markets.”

Researchers in Zurich, Switzerland have recently come up with a new, more environmentally-friendly method for producing lactic acid – one of the two main monomers which form PLA.

The new process involves the conversion of glycerol – a by-product of manufacturing biofuels – into lactic acid, reducing CO2 emissions by 30% compared with the old sugar fermentation route.

Bioplastic breakthroughs

In the past year, the UK and Europe has seen a number of innovative R&D projects in the field of bioplastics including:

– 10 June: Plastic manufacturer Biome Bioplastics revealed research that demonstrated the feasibility of creating bioplastics from the chemicals produced in the degradation of lignin – a waste product of the pulp and paper industry.

– 16 June: Ford and Heinz teamed up to research the use of fibres in waste tomato skins to produce bioplastic materials to be used in vehicle manufacturing.

– 17 June: A consortium of companies including Coca-Cola and Danone united to scale up to invest in a commercial scale facility for the production of PEF (polyethylene furanoate) – a 100% renewable plant-based polymer – to be used in food and drinks packaging.

– 21 August: Network Waste and UEA’s Adapt Low Carbon Group teamed up to research the possibility of using paper crumb – a waste from paper milling – in the production of bioplastics.

Lois Vallely

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