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Driven by Asia, global capacity for bioplastics production to grow more than 400% by 2018

Driven by Asia, global capacity for bioplastics production to grow more than 400% by 2018

The global bioplastics market is a small but significant sub-sector of the plastics industry. Bioplastics is an environment-friendly method that does not occupy landfills. Moreover, plants provide a cheap and sustainable alternative to their petroleum counterparts. In the coming years, economics, legislation and environmental issues will all drive policies to support sustainable growth across the nations and various industries. Bioplastics will have an increasing importance and market share in the plastics industry as well as a material in general over the coming years. The plastics industry has been faced with continuous pressures from the government, consumers and the media and being coerced to consider how it can make its products more sustainable. Faced with pressing issues of high raw material costs and increased dependence on crude oil, 'sustainable plastics' has become a top priority for the plastic material sector. Manufacturers in response are constantly analysing the changing market trends to innovate their products in order to stay in competition. In recent times, new and stringent environmental protection regulations in the world have forced countries to rethink their environmental protection strategies. Major changes in the climate have made people more determined to become environmentally friendly. The plastic industry, in particular the plastic packaging industry like all other consumer goods industries reacted and began a series of innovations in sustainable packaging products. Moreover, with the decrease in available fossil fuel reserves and increase in cost of petrochemicals, industries require renewable resources to become sustainable. Emerging new trends also often require changes in the laws and regulations which govern the market. This in turn causes substantial change in the investment plans directed at the development of new technologies to accommodate the new trends. As ecological considerations continue to rise, the bioplastics industry will also see a rise in investments to establish pollution prevention methods and equipment. Strong environmental movements in the EU, Japan and US raise a concern about sustainability, global climate change and waste disposal options, creating a market opportunity for natural compostable bioplastics. The bioplastics market is forecast to reach market value of US$3.94 bln in 2014, as per Visiongain.

Global capacity for bioplastics production is predicted to grow by more than 400% by 2018, according to European Bioplastics' annual market data update, which shows that capacity will increase from around 1.6 mln tons in 2013 to approximately 6.7 mln tons in 2018. Figures suggest Asia will become a chief production hub, with countries such as Thailand, India and China producing about 75% of bioplastics by 2018. Europe, currently a major driver in research and development (R&D), will retain only 8% of the production capacity. Locally-produced renewable and compostable plastics will benefit from the new EU legislation on the use of single-use plastic carrier bags, and both flexible and rigid packaging will remain the leading application field for bioplastics. François de Bie, Chairman of European Bioplastics, says "Besides this, a decisive growth can be observed in textiles and automotive applications. From functional sports garments with enhanced breathability to fuel lines - bioplastics are constantly spreading into new markets." Many are biodegradable which means they offer a sustainable alternative to conventional plastic and provide a wider range of end-of-life options. The production of biobased PE (polyethylene) and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) are increasing the most - PLA (Polylactide) being a major growth driver in the field of biobased and biodegradable plastics.

Global demand for bioplastics is set to grow from 890,000 tpa in 2012 up to 2.9 mln tons by 2017, at a CAGR of about 26.9%, as per Smithers Rapra. While the majority of bioplastic end use has been in packaging and food service non-durable applications, the disposal of such materials has impacted manufacturing.
Biodegrabability can be designed into many bioplastics, especially polylactic acid (PLA), polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA), polybutylene succinate (PBS) and a few other aliphatic polyesters and starch compounds. However, the report remarks that biodegradability has become less of a focus in recent years, because it too represents a wasteful end-of-life option. Rather, the focus now is on bio-based products which are considered sustainable and renewable through feedstocks that are grown and end products which are recycled. Non-durable applications will continue to be an important part of bioplastics usage, however durable applications will increasingly become more important. The report said that having recyclable or compostable thermoplastics provider greater value if they are collected and separate from other waste plastics. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) milk containers and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) clear bottles were quoted as easily identified and recycled by most communities worldwide. However, plastic films used in packaging are less often recycled or composted, due to the difficulty of identification and separation in the consumer waste pool. The automotive and transportation end uses for bioplastics are expected to increase in demand share from 23% in 2012 to 27% in 2017. Non-durables are expected to declinin share from 77% in 2012 to 73% in 2017.
Smithers Rapra said: "The bioplastics market is a growing fertile market which has reached a stage of serious consideration and market acceptance. Bioplastics are here to stay – the question is 'not if, but when'? Worldwide, we will continue to undergo an extended period of energy transition and uncertainty with regards to the cost of fossil fuels vs alternative biorenewable approaches. There is little doubt that another energy crisis (e.g. oil shortage) will again rear its head, but we don't know when."  It is anticipated that the main difference between bioplastics today compared to the future will be production. Most bioplastics today are produced in "stand-alone single-technology facilities", based on a single feedstock such as corn. The report predicts that instead there will be multi-crop bio-refineries capable of using various types of bio-feedstock and producing many types of end products.
Findings predicted that 2nd/3rd generation cellulose conversion technology for non-food crops such as corn husks, grass, and wood will become economic. If so, the new technology would bypass the issue of 'food for fuels', using biomass waste, converted to ethanol and bio-monomers. "Bioplastic acceptance is advancing and improving, yet bioplastics are still in the early stages of market development and will only be considered as an alternative if cost, performance, or legislated regulations allow it. Today, bioplastics represent less than 1% of all polymer production worldwide. However, as fossil fuel costs increase relative to bio-based materials, and as biorenewable materials become a more important aspect of improving environmental sustainability, there will be an ever-increasing need for bioplastics.

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