The recent study “Land use mediated GHG emissions and spillovers from increased consumption of bioplastics” published by the University of Bonn calls into question the contribution of bio-based plastics to climate change mitigation. Although the study describes that fossil-based plastics are responsible for 15 percent of the global CO2 emissions*, it fails to acknowledge that bio-based plastics generate proven environmental, economic, and social benefits.
The claim that the increased consumption of bio-based plastics would change the land use globally, with a negative impact on food prices and CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, is based on rather out-dated and undifferentiated assumptions that resources can only be used for either food or biotechnological applications such as bio-based plastics. The argument of integrated production and use of sidestream biomass is ignored.
The land used to grow the renewable feedstock for the production of bioplastics amounted to approximately 810,000 hectares in 2018, which accounted for less than 0.02 percent of the global agricultural area of 4.9 billion hectares, 97 percent of which were used for pasture, feed and food. This clearly shows that there is no competition between the renewable feedstock for food, feed, and the production of bioplastics.
According to the latest market data compiled by European Bioplastics in cooperation with the nova-Institute, global bioplastics production capacity is set to increase from around 2.11 million tonnes in 2018 to approximately 2.62 million tonnes in 2023. Despite this market growth, the land use share for bioplastics will remain around 0.02 percent.
The underproportionate growth of land use compared to capacity growth is the consequence of a strong focus on sparing use of resources and increase of resource efficiency, e.g. through making use of sidestreams and co-products of agricultural food and feed production. What is more, EUBP is explicitly supporting the implementation of good agricultural practice, corresponding third-party sustainability certification and a responsible choice of feedstock (which can vary from global region to region).
Finally, the scenarios run in the experiment – a tax on conventional plastics compared with a subsidy on bioplastics – can only be considered meaningful to a limited extent, as it is highly debatable if the study is based on sufficient data covering the all CO2 emissions of fossil resources production – throughout extraction and production.
Bio-based plastics are a main driver of the growth of the bioeconomy in Europe. According to a study of EuropaBio, it accounts for about 23,000 jobs in Europe. With suitable investment and regulatory frameworks, this number could increase by 2030 to up to 300,000 high skilled jobs. Furthermore, the bio-based plastics industry enables efficient use of by-products from agricultural and forestry production and creates new revenue streams for farmers and forest owners across – an important impulse to boost Europe’s competitiveness in these important sectors.
European Bioplastics will address the report and publish and in-depth statement in January 2019.