Biobased and biodegradable plastics

Biobased and biodegradable plastics

Bioplastics: solution to waste problems?

Biopolymers are conquering an increasing number of application areas and achieving significantly higher growth rates than conventional standard plastics, says a study

01 October 2021

Compostable disposable tableware, mulch films that rot on the field or fishing nets that simply disintegrate over time: are bioplastics the solution to waste problems? High hopes are being placed in plastics made from sugar cane, potato starch or other renewable raw materials. Biopolymers are conquering an increasing number of application areas and achieving significantly higher growth rates than conventional standard plastics.

Ceresana has analysed the dynamically growing global market for “green” polymers for the sixth time: analysts expect revenues from bioplastics to rise to approx $8.1 billion by 2030.


EU Circular Economy

Plastics and packaging are central product groups for the “Circular Economy Action Plan” published by the EU Commission in spring 2020 as part of the “Green Deal”. In order to overcome the throwaway society and reduce the amount of waste, the EU Commission is planning, among other things, a plastic tax, and restrictions on microplastics and the promotion of plastic recycling.

By the end of 2021, new “framework legislation for bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics” should clearly regulate and define what is meant by these terms and how bioplastics should be disposed of. Greenwashing is to be avoided by means of a life cycle analysis: Biobased plastics should only be used if they offer real ecological advantages over fossil plastics and do not compete with food production, for example.


Biodegradable Plastics

Two groups of materials are considered to be “bioplastics”. These two groups can overlap but don’t have to be identical: biodegradable plastics, which decompose in the wild or can at least be composted in industrial facilities; and biobased plastics, which are produced from renewable raw materials.

Some bioplastics meet both conditions: for instance, PLA from polylactic acid, PHA from sugar and TPS from starch are biobased and biodegradable. However, there are also plastic made from biogenic raw materials that are not compostable (for example, PEF from fructose or bio-PE based on sugar cane). In contrast, some petrochemical plastics, i.e. plastics produced from crude oil or natural gas, may well be biodegradable (for example, PCL, PBAT, PBS). Biobased plastics can be recycled as long as they have the same chemical structure as their fossil-based counterparts.


Polylactic Acids

Biodegradable plastics, for example polylactic acids (PLA) and starch polymers, reached a market share of 65 per cent of the total bioplastics market in 2020. For this product group, Ceresana expects further growth of 10.2 per cent per year until 2030. For biobased plastics, such as polyethylene, PET or PA, which are not biodegradable, growth is expected to be lower with 7.5 per cent per year.

Ceresana's latest market report analyses how the use of bioplastics is developing in different sales markets. The most important sales market for bioplastics in 2020 was the packaging industry - more than 58 per cent of all bioplastics were processed here. Ceresana expects the highest growth in the market for bags and sacks with 11.1 per cent per year.

The study provides a comprehensive presentation and analysis of the global bioplastics market – including forecasts up to 2030: for each region, the development of demand (tonnes), sales and production (tonnes) is presented. In addition, the application areas of bioplastics are examined individually: rigid packaging, flexible packaging (bags, sacks, and other packaging), consumer goods, automotive and electronics, other applications.

For the regions Europe, North America, Asia-Pacific and “Rest of the World”, the production of bioplastics is divided into the product groups: PLA, starch, other biodegradable and non-biodegradable plastics. The eight most important sales countries are considered individually: Germany, France, the UK, Italy, Spain, the US, China and Japan.

Major manufacturers are BASF, Braskem, Far Eastern New Century Corporation (FENC), NatureWorks, Novamont, Rodenburg Biopolymers, Solvay, Teijin Limited, and Vegeplast.  

More Stories