Profits from bioplastics on the European market are expected to grow up to EUR 475.5 mln in 2016 (from a profit of EUR 142.6 mln in 2016), as per Frost & Sullivan. The survey sees increasing prices for raw materials and a growing consciousness for the environmental impact of packaging waste as the driving forces behind this growth. Most packaging material today is made from plastics based on crude oil - recycling these plastics is a complicated process. Their dependence on oil as basic raw material couples the price for these plastics indirect with the crude oil price. Especially short-lived, single use packaging of foods and consumer goods (according to study about 12% of the total packaging amount) could well be made from bioplastics with the same hygienic qualities, especially from starch based or Polyactid acid plastics.
Due to the competitive pressure on the plastics market, bioplastics still have difficulties competing with cheaper oil based plastics. The unstable political situation in several Middle East countries and a static grow of crude oil price from the relative stable prices in the mid-nineties could well make alternative resources for plastics more competitive. Some of the difficulties with cost-efficient production could nevertheless be overcome if bioplastics are produced as a mass product by the big players on the synthetics market. “Focusing on increased production capacities and the efficient use of them could well help to overcome the difference in price between biopolymers and conventional plastics;" explains Sujatha Vijayan, Research Analyst of Frost & Sullivan. "This will generate growths on the market and help to find replacements for oil-based polymers in numerous applications." But also administrations could play an important part in the break-through of biopolymers: by offering tax privileges or legal regulations in favour of bioplastics.
Meanwhile packaging producers aim to develop active plastics for food packaging that help to minimize odours. Big potentials is expected for bioplastics with integrated freshness, temperature or quality indicators. Whether bioplastics will witness a break-through on the packaging-market depends, not only on a growing customers demand but also on the development of new technologies. Better permeance properties of food packaging foils could well increase a polymers market value. "Companies currently work on new features with different technologies to upgrade the properties of biopolymers. These inventions could well change the way plastics are used in the packaging industry" Vijayan added.
Recyclability is an important environmental consideration in the plastics business, and particularly in packaging. However, it is worth noting that many bioplastics are not biodegradable. These products are physically identical to their petroleum-based counterparts and are being developed as drop-in substitutes. For such materials, then, recyclability of the final product is not necessarily increased by their use. Even without the use of plant-based substitutes, plastics already lend themselves to recycling and thus benefit from some preference in the market. In the market for drop-in substitutes, bioplastics gain most of their “green halo” through their low life-cycle environmental impacts relative to petroleum resins. They tend to be made from feedstocks that are non-toxic and produce low levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.