Currently, bioplastics represent about one percent of the more than 359 million tonnes of plastic produced annually. But as demand is rising, and with more sophisticated biopolymers, applications, and products emerging, the market for bioplastics is continuously growing and diversifying.
According to the latest market data compiled by European Bioplastics in cooperation with the research institute nova-Institute, global bioplastics production capacity is set to increase from around 2.11 million tonnes in 2019 to approximately 2.43 million tonnes in 2024.
New and innovative biopolymers, such as bio-based PP (polypropylene) and PHAs (polyhydroxyalkanoates) show the highest relative growth rates. In 2019, bio-based PP entered the market on a commercial scale with a strong growth potential due to the widespread application of PP in a wide range of sectors. Their production capacities are predicted to almost sextuple by 2024. PHAs are an important polymer family, whose production capacities are estimated to more than triple in the next five years. These polyesters are 100 percent bio-based and biodegradable, and feature a wide array of physical and mechanical properties depending on their chemical composition.
Bio-based, non-biodegradable plastics altogether, including also the drop-in solutions bio-based PE (polyethylene) and bio-based PET (polyethylene terephthalate), as well as bio-based PA (polyamides), currently make up for over 44 percent (almost 1 million tonnes) of the global bioplastics production capacities. The production of bio-based PE is predicted to continue to grow, as new capacities are planned to come online in Europe in the coming years. Intentions to increase production capacities for bio-based PET, however, have not been nearly realised at the rate predicted in previous years but actually declined. Instead, the focus has shifted to the development of PEF (polyethylene furanoate), a new polymer that is expected to enter the market in 2023. PEF is comparable to PET but 100 percent bio-based and is said to feature superior barrier and thermal properties, making it an ideal material for the packaging of drinks, food and non-food products.
Biodegradable plastics altogether, including PLA, PHA, starch blends and others, account for over 55.5 percent (over 1 millions tonnes) of the global bioplastics production capacities. The production of biodegradable plastics is expected to increase to 1,33 million in 2024 especially due to PHA’s significant growth rates.
Bioplastics are used in an increasing number of markets, from packaging, catering products, consumer electronics, automotive, agriculture/horticulture and toys to textiles and a number of other segments. Packaging remains the largest field of application for bioplastics with more than 53 percent (1.14 million tonnes) of the total bioplastics market in 2019. However, the portfolio of application continues to diversify. Segments, such as automotives & transport or building & construction, significantly increased their share.
Europe strengthened its position as a major hub for the entire bioplastics industry once again; it ranks highest in the field of research and development and is the industry’s largest market worldwide. By now, one fourth of the global bioplastics production capacity is located in Europe.
However, with a view to the actual production of bioplastics and regional capacity development, Asia continues to be the major production hub. In 2019, 45 percent of bioplastics were produced in Asia. At the same time, production in the Americas has also increased.
The land used to grow the renewable feedstock for the production of bioplastics amounted to approximately 0.79 million hectares in 2019, which accounted for less than 0.02 percent of the global agricultural area of 4.8 billion hectares, 94 percent of which were used for pasture, feed and food. Despite the market growth predicted in the next five years, the land use share for bioplastics will remain around 0.02 percent. This clearly shows that there is no competition between the renewable feedstock for food, feed, and the production of bioplastics.
*Source: Plastics Europe Facts and Figures 2017