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Emergence of a global food crisis could pose a challenge to growth of bioplastics market

Emergence of a global food crisis could pose a challenge to growth of bioplastics market

Global demand for biodegradable and bio-based plastics will more than triple to over 1 mln metric tons (1.1 mln tons) in 2015, as per Freedonia. Global bioplastics market is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 33.9% over the period 2011-2015, as per TechNavio's analysts. This market has also been witnessing increased usage in the packaging and consumer goods industry. However, the likelihood of the emergence of a global food crisis could pose a challenge to the growth of this market. The ongoing public, political and industrial debate, with wide-reaching implications, on the competition between food, animal feeds and industrial markets for agricultural raw materials has created a lot of confusion and insecurity within the bioplastics industry. Critics argue that bioplastics are contributing to the global food crisis by taking over large areas of land previously used to grow crops for food and leading to food price hikes. This raises the question of whether the potential damage of bioplastics outweighs their potential benefit.
In favour of bioplastics, it can be said that it has been a common practice to use agricultural feedstock for biomaterials for decades-the additional impact of bioplastics is extremely small. Many argue that the reason for hunger is not a shortage of land for food or animal feed production, but problems in distribution, logistics and financial resources. Additionally, there are still large areas of land free or unused. These areas can be used for energy and industrial raw material production without any harm, or any impact on food and animal feed production. More important than activating new agricultural areas is to increase productivity in areas already under cultivation by employing modern agricultural techniques. Over 90% of the cultivated land in the world is used for food and animal feed production, 6% for industrial materials and 2% for biofuels. The miniscule share indicates that the impact of biofuels is very limited, and experts argue that agricultural land used for bioplastics is less than 0.1%. From a mass flow perspective, the amount of raw materials used for the production of bioplastics is very small compared to the amount of raw materials used for biofuels. Until now biofuels have had only a small effect on world food prices. However, biofuel demand is the largest source of new demand for decades and a strong factor underpinning the upward shift in agriculture commodity prices. Biofuels have had an influence on cereal and oilseed prices of 3-10%. Another desirable factor in producing biofuels or bioplastics is that in most cases it also produces high value protein-rich by-products that can be used as animal feed. The Freedonia report predicts that the next few years will see massive changes in the bioplastics industry. Hopefully, these will include the development of technologies on a commercial scale that will finally put the debate to rest.

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