Home NEWS Biopolymers are flourishing: Ceresana examines the global market for bioplastics

Biopolymers are flourishing: Ceresana examines the global market for bioplastics

by tecnoplast
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For some time now, bioplastics have been used for more than just garbage bags or mulch films: Biopolymers are increasingly found in durable high-performance products, for example in demanding automotive applications, casings for the electronics industry or materials for the construction industry. Biodegradability is often an advantage, for example for packaging films, disposable tableware or medical implants. By now, however, “bio” versions are available for virtually all types and applications of plastics. Polylactic acid (PLA), for example, is the primary material used for 3D printing. According to the latest edition of the Ceresana report on bioplastics, the global market for “green” polymers will continue to grow dynamically: the analysts expect bioplastics sales to rise to around USD 9.7 billion by 2031.

Renewable and Compostable Plastics

Climate protection, independence from crude oil and natural gas, environmentally friendly products and new opportunities for agriculture – bioplastics are associated with great hopes. Nevertheless, there is also a great deal of confusion surrounding these materials, as there is currently no generally recognized definition of bioplastics and no uniform labeling. The current Ceresana study looks at two material groups that can overlap but do not always have to be identical: biodegradable plastics on the one hand, which can be decomposed by microorganisms in the wild or at least composted in industrial plants; on the other hand, biobased plastics, which are produced from renewable raw materials. Some bioplastics meet both conditions: PHA from sugar and TPS from starch, for instance, are bio-based and biodegradable. However, there are also plastics made from biogenic raw materials that are not compostable, for example PEF from fructose or bio-polyethylene based on sugar cane. In contrast, some petrochemical plastics, i.e., plastics produced from crude oil or natural gas, can be biodegradable, such as PCL, PBAT or PBS.

Green Polymers for the Circular Economy

Plastics and packaging play a major role in the “Circular Economy Action Plan” published by the European Union as part of its “Green Deal” to overcome the throwaway society and reduce waste. The EU Commission is working on a new policy framework on biobased, biodegradable and compostable plastics. This should clearly define what is meant by bioplastics and how they are to be disposed of. The project is rendered more complicated by the fact that biomass components are also increasingly being added to fossil plastics in order to reduce their carbon footprint. So far, it has not been defined at what proportion of renewable raw materials a “bio-attributed” or “mass-balanced” polymer blend may be marketed as a bioplastic. Plastics obtained with the help of genetically modified organisms are also controversial. In any case, the EU Commission wants to avoid greenwashing: Bio-based plastics should only be used if they offer “genuine ecological advantages” over fossil plastics and do not compete with food production, for example.

Highest Growth Rate for Polylactic Acids and Starch

Biodegradable plastics, for example polylactic acids (PLA) and starch polymers, reached a market share of 65% of the total bioplastics market in 2021. For this product group, Ceresana expects further volume growth of 10.4% per year until 2031. For biobased plastics that are not biodegradable, such as polyethylene, PET or PA, growth is expected to be lower at 7.5% per year. Ceresana’s latest market report analyzes how the use of bioplastics is developing in the various sales markets. The most important application area in 2021 was the packaging industry: 58% of all bioplastics were processed in this area. Ceresana expects the highest growth rate in the “bags and sacks” segment.

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