The degradable plastic industry has been on the verge of commercial success for decades, says a recently released report, Degradable Plastics by The Freedonia Group. However, demand growth was limited because most degradable plastics were too expensive, were unavailable in large enough quantities or had performance drawbacks that limited them to niche markets. This situation began to change in the early 2000s, as interest in environmentally friendly products gained strength, boosted by the efforts of major users like Wal-Mart. At the same time, the availability of biodegradable plastics increased significantly due to expansions by key producers. These positive trends are expected to continue. US demand for degradable plastics is forecast to rise 16.6% pa to 325 mln lbs in 2014, valued at US$380 mln. Opportunities will reflect continued capacity growth, efforts to reduce pollution and US reliance on petroleum products, and consumer demand for sustainable, environmentally friendly packaging and manufactured goods.
Polylactic acid (PLA) and starch-based plastics currently dominate the market and both products are expected to see strong growth. PLA will register the faster gains, over 20% pa through 2014, due to increased availability, greater processor familiarity and performance enhancements that will expand potential applications. Starch-based resins will benefit from the introduction of improved resin grades, blending with other biopolymers and an increasing number of suppliers. Opportunities are expected in compostable yard and kitchen bags, foodservice disposables and various types of packaging. The strong outlook for degradable plastics is prompting the development of new products. One of these is polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). While sales of PHA were negligible in 2009, rapid growth over the next ten years should boost the product up among the leading types of degradable plastics. Growth is predicated on significant capacity increases, competitive pricing and the development of grades capable of replacing polyolefins in higher performance injection molded articles as well as in foodservice disposables, nonwovens, containers and bottles.