Global demand for bioplastics, which include plastic resins that are biodegradable or derived from plant-based sources, will rise more than fourfold to 890,000 metric tons in 2013 as per a report by Freedonia. This extraordinary growth will be fueled by a number of factors, including consumer demand for more environmentally-sustainable products, the development of bio-based feedstocks for commodity plastic resins, and increasing restrictions on the use of plastic products, particularly plastic bags. Most importantly, however, will be the expected continuation of high crude oil and natural gas prices, which will allow bioplastics to become more cost-competitive with petroleum-based resins. Looking ahead to 2018, world bioplastics demand is forecast to reach nearly two million metric tons, with a market value of over US$5 bln.
Biodegradable plastics, such as starchbased resins, polylactic acid and degradable polyesters, accounted for the vast majority (nearly 90%) of bioplastics demand in 2008. Double-digit gains are expected to continue going forward, fueled in part by the emergence of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), such as MIREL resins from Telles, on the commercial market. However, nonbiodegradable plant-based plastics will be the primary driver of bioplastics demand. In the next few years, Dow Chemical and Braskem are each planning to open plants in Brazil that will produce polyethylene from bio-based ethanol. Other firms are expected to open bio-based polyvinyl chloride and polypropylene facilities. As a result, demand for non-biodegradable plant-based plastics will increase from just 23,000 metric tons in 2008 to nearly 600,000 metric tons in 2013. Western Europe was the largest regional market for bioplastics in 2008, accounting for about 40% of world demand. Bioplastics sales in the region benefit from strong consumer demand for biodegradable and plant-based products, a regulatory environment that favors bioplastics over petroleum resins, and an extensive infrastructure for composting. Going forward, however, more rapid growth in demand will be found in the Asia/Pacific region, which will become the equal of the West European market by 2013. Gains will be stimulated by strong demand in Japan, which has focused intently on the replacement of petroleumbased plastics. Other world regions, such as Latin America and Eastern Europe, will see stellar gains in bioplastics demand from a very small 2008 base.
Currently, world bioplastics production is heavily concentrated in the developed countries of North America, Western Europe and Japan. This will change dramatically by 2013, as China is expected to open over 100,000 metric tons of new bioplastics capacity. Furthermore, once the planned bio-based polyethylene and polyvinyl chloride plants come online, Brazil will become the world' s leading producer of bioplastics in 2018.