Peter O’Sullivan, Manager Packaging at Henkel, presenting Henkel’s sustainable packaging solutions for anaerobic adhesives at the 11th European Bioplastics Conference 2016.
How are Bioplastics doing now?
The conference organizer, European Bioplastics, took the opportunity to disclose the latest market data. The core message was clear: despite the low prices of oil, the production capacity for bioplastics is growing. Maybe this isn’t so surprising. As it was mentioned during last Labiotech Refresh‘s Global Bioenergies fireside chat, the low price of fuel made companies shift away from biofuels and into added-value chemicals. For example, Neste (Finland) is a leader in renewable fuels but is now expanding to biobased materials – most famously with its Ikea deal.
Globally, bioplastics production reached 4.1 million tons in 2016, growing 5% from last year. Similarly upbeat are the predictions for the next 5 years. Production capacity should go up 50%! Kristy-Barbara Lange, who presented the data, stressed that more and more materials are gaining a market share and that there’s a demand for material innovation. There’s also a growth of bioplastic in areas requiring performance materials, such as construction.
Policies and Challenges for Bioplastics Future
Policy played a big role in the conference, with the first keynote presentations going over the EU‘s new environmental agenda and Circular Economy package, which defined plastics and biobased products as priorities. The key politic motivation is job growth and investment, and closely related fields like industrial Biotech have good numbers to show.
Another popular point of debate was recycling. This appears to be one of the main challenges for the introduction of novel bioplastics, like the versatile PLA or Avantium’s PEF, of Coca-Cola fame. Because these plastics are relatively rare, it’s not economical to recycle them. For these reasons, bioplastics can end up on the wrong side of environmental policies. This dynamic favors “drop-ins“, biobased versions of already popular plastics like PET. However, Steve Davies (from NatureWorks) warns that this mindset blocks innovation and superior alternatives like PLA and PEF. Maybe the solution can be different approaches to recycling, such as Carbios’ enzymatic separation, or specialized companies like Looplife (Belgium), which even partnered with summer festivals to recuperate PLA cups.
The conference also featured lessons from the US, with a presentation of the American Biopreferred program, and Brazil, during which Yuki Kabe (Braskem) stressed the necessity of evaluating sustainability case-by-case, with tools like Life Cycle Analysis. Also coming from the US, the Green Sports Alliance made an interesting case for using sports as a conduit for environmental awareness and a showcase for bioplastics. Sports reach a large audience, including those typically unengaged with environmental matters, as well as conservative sectors – an important leverage in the days of Brexit and Trump.