Currently, bioplastics represent about one percent of the about 335 million tonnes* of plastic produced annually. But as demand is rising and with more sophisticated biopolymers, applications, and products emerging, the market is continuously growing.
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 2018 to approximately 2.62 million tonnes in 2023.
Innovative biopolymers such as PLA (polylactic acid) and PHAs (polyhydroxyalkanoates) are the main drivers of this growth in the field of bio-based, biodegradable plastics. PHAs are an important polymer family that has been in development for a while and that now finally enters the market at commercial scale, with production capacities estimated to quadruple in the next five years. These polyesters are 100 percent bio-based, biodegradable, and feature a wide array of physical and mechanical properties depending on their chemical composition. Production capacities of PLA are also predicted to grow by 60 percent by 2023 compared to 2018. PLA is a very versatile material that features excellent barrier properties and is available in high-performance PLA grades that are an excellent replacement for PS (polystyrene), PP (polypropylene), and ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) in more demanding applications.
Bio-based, non-biodegradable plastics, including 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 around 48 percent (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 realised at the rate predicted in previous years. 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. In 2023, bio-based PP is expected to enter the market on a commercial scale with a strong growth potential due to the widespread application of PP in a wide range of sectors. Bio-based PUR (polyurethanes) are another important group of polymers that have huge production capacities with a well-established market and are expected to grow faster than the conventional PUR market due to their versatility.
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 almost 65 percent (1.2 million tonnes) of the total bioplastics market in 2018.
Europe is a major hub for the entire bioplastics industry; it ranks highest in the field of research and development and is the industry’s largest market worldwide. With a view to the actual production of bioplastics and regional capacity development, Asia is a major production hub. In 2018, over 50 percent of bioplastics were produced in Asia. Around one fifth of the global bioplastics production capacity is located in Europe.
The land used to grow the renewable feedstock for the production of bioplastics amounted to approximately 0.81 million 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. 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