The global volume for biodegradable polymers is expected to reach 1.3 bln lbs in 2013 and grow to 1.5 bln lbs by 2014. The market is projected to reach 3 bln lbs by 2019, and register a 5 year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.4% from 2014 to 2019, as per BCC Research. A variety of factors such as relatively unpredictable oil prices, worldwide interest in renewable resources, increased concerns of greenhouse gas emissions and fresh interest in waste management, has sparked new interest in both biopolymers and biodegradable polymers. Compared with more traditional polymers, biodegradable polymers have found several niche markets within a wide range of markets, including packaging (carrier/waste bags and food wrappers/containers), agricultural (mulch films, flowerpots and encapsulation of fertilizers for controlled release), and medical devices (orthopedic, dental, drug release and tissue engineering).
As per Global Industry Analysts, the global market for biodegradable polymers is forecast to reach 2.44 bln lbs by the year 2017. Increasing demand in packaging, the largest end-use market; growing environmental concerns; soaring petroleum costs; launch of new types of biodegradable polymers; concerns over depleting landfills; and a shift towards renewable sources from traditional sources of fossil fuel are the key factors driving the demand for biodegradable polymers. Growth in the market would be further propelled by technological innovations, emerging applications, stern regulations to inhibit packaging waste and landfill, and improvement in composting infrastructure. Global biodegradable polymers market remained strong amidst economic recession, and continues to witness significant growth, backed by increasing usage in packaging, the largest end-use market. Though it has several barriers, such as strong legislative mandate, high price of the polymers, and poor industrial infrastructure for composting, the global biodegradable market, however, survived recession and attracted investments by several organizations in the manufacture and expansion activity. In the wake of growing environmental concerns and soaring petroleum costs, biodegradable polymers have slowly but steadily increased global penetration. The presence of a sizeable potential market has opened up a plethora of opportunities for companies within the chemical, agricultural and plastic sectors. In the recent years, several companies have ventured into collaborations and tie-ups for the manufacture of new biodegradable polymers. Apart from the emergence of new forms of biodegradable polymers, the market is also witnessing the entry of several major companies. Europe represents the largest global market for biodegradable polymers market, and will continue its dominance in the ensuing years, owing to the increasing consumer attention towards sustainable practices, rapidly depleting landfill capacity, gas and fossil fuel dependence, and growing need to inhibit greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, the focal point of the global biodegradable polymer market is gradually shifting towards North America. The US is driven primarily by growing consumer concerns over depleting petroleum-based raw materials, landfill and composting issues, and increasing awareness about using environment-friendly products. Growth is also expected to emanate from the Asian countries, including China and Japan, due to the huge production volumes, plastic waste control regulations and the increasing demand for eco-friendly products. In Japan, biodegradable polymers are being preferred in place of the conventional petroleum-based polymers as a result of increasing prices of both petroleum as well as petroleum-derived products. In terms of end-use markets, packaging represents the largest market for biodegradable polymers. The biodegradable polymers packaging market, unlike other packaging segments, remained immune to the global economic recession, and registered steady growth. This was mainly due to the strong demand for biodegradable polymer packaging in the developing regions, depleting fossil reserves, growing environmental concerns, and increasing emphasis on green packaging. Growth of the biodegradable polymers market in future would be primarily driven by emerging uses which include agriculture, horticulture, and healthcare. Demand for these polymers in such applications is forecast to increase at a compounded annual growth rate of 27.35% during the analysis period. Applications of biodegradable polymers are rapidly widening to other sectors, including electronics, automotive and toy making. Starch-based biopolymers lead the water-soluble polymers category, and are registering robust growth in the developing countries of Asia-Pacific and Latin America. Meanwhile, the market for water-soluble polymers has reached maturity level in the developed nations. Key applications of starch-based polymers include packaging solutions, hygiene products, compost bags, agriculture films, and fast food tableware. Polylactic acid biopolymers constitute the most widely used biodegradable polymers, followed by copolyester-based biopolymers.
Major drivers for global growth stem from mandated legislation. Though some mandates are in place, many have not been promulgated. The controversy within the industry as to which materials should be considered biodegradable continues unabated. A number of conflicting definitions and terms has led to confusion over what substances are considered biodegradable or not. Simply put, to be considered biodegradable, a substance must be susceptible to microbes that degrade materials under the proper conditions, leaving only carbon dioxide, water and humus. While bioplastics are resins that are derived from natural rather than petrochemical sources, not all bioplastics are biodegradable. In addition, biodegradable polymers need not be plant-derived. Indeed, resins used to produce biodegradable plastics can be derived from both natural and synthetic processes. Although biodegradable polymers have been commercial for several decades, this market is often characterized by a high degree of flux, something found in new or emerging markets. New biodegradable polymers are being introduced, accompanied by withdrawals of other products. Consequently, growth in this market is being shaped by emerging technologies and new innovations, as well as environmental regulations on both the governmental and industry levels. This niche market is beset with a variety of challenges, including high prices, lack of industrial infrastructure in the United States, and a strong global legislative mandate to increase the usage of these materials. In addition, key companies are entering and leaving this market, which is often characteristic of new products/markets. The industry has been characterized by new technologies, tightening environmental restraints and unstable oil prices among other issues. These resins currently include polyolefin-based compositions containing starch and polymers containing aromatic groups that microorganisms have difficulty utilizing in their metabolism. Furthermore, there are additives said to convert petroleum-based resins to biodegradable versions. These resultant resins are said to be oxo-biodegradable. Part of the current debate revolves around defining an acceptable period of time for biodegradation to be completed. Almost all carbon-based materials are biodegradable, if given an acceptable period of time. In the case of anaerobic biodegradation, carbon dioxide, methane and humus are the degradation products. However, many within the industry insist on a time period for degradation such that the terms biodegradability and composting are not synonymous. Polymers derived from renewable resources (non-petroleum-based) are not covered unless they are considered biodegradable since many polymers derived from renewable resources are not biodegradable. These materials are often termed as bio-based. Some polymers are both bio-based and biodegradable.