Bioplastics: Essential Component for Sustainable Eco-friendly Economy
Globally every year more than 200 million tons of plastics waste is generated of which only 8%-9% is being recycled and more than 75% ends up in landfills and nature. An alternative solution to conventional plastics is the need of an hour.
Bioplastics is a type of biodegradable plastic derived from renewable biomass sources such as cellulose, vegetable oil & fats, lignin, starch, sugars, agriculture waste, etc. Bioplastics help in reducing the impact of plastics on our environment. The bioplastics market is primarily driven by the need for sustainable eco-friendly solutions; resulting in doubling of production capacities, in the last decade.
Global production capacities stood at 2.1 million tons in 2018 and represent just above one per cent of the total plastics production across the globe. In terms of consumption, Europe dominates the market. Bioplastics have become a vital component in Europe’s strategies to develop a fully sustainable and circular bio-economy. North America and European regions are going to lead the market in the field of research and innovation.
Asia Pacific accounted for more than 50% of the global production in 2018. Demand from flexible packaging has been the key driving force behind the rise in demand for bioplastics in Asia pacific region. Government initiatives and policies to restrict the usage of non-biodegradable plastics can be attributed to the growing popularity of bioplastics in the region.
Packaging and Automotive Industry to Drive the Market Growth
Packaging is one of the major consumers of bioplastics and consumed around two-third of the total volume in 2018. One of the most important factors behind this growth is an emphasis on biobased products to reduce the carbon footprint in the manufacturing coupled with a focus on minimal environmental impact on disposal. Bioplastics are considered amongst the key element for shifting the plastics industry from a wasteful linear economy to a circular economy. New bioplastic Polyethylene Furanoate (PEF) is expected to enter the market in the next years. The product is expected to be an ideal material for the packaging industry due to its superior barrier and thermal properties.
The automotive industry has witnessed significant variations in terms of material consumption. Traditionally, bioplastics are majorly used in interior automotive applications. However, there is a growing trend towards usage in exterior and under-the-hood applications as well. Bioplastics help not only in curtailing the environmental effect of car manufacturing by reducing the CO2 emissions, but also its overall dependency on volatile energy markets.
There is also a growing trend in the consumption of bioplastics in the biomedical industry. Bioplastics can be widely used in tissue engineering, drug delivery, wound management, orthopaedic devices, and creating fibrous scaffolds owing to its good storage modulus, bioresorbable and crystallinity properties. Since, bioplastics are biodegradable, non-toxic, and versatile compared to their fossil fuel counterparts, they are considered among one of the most promising materials in the medical industry.
Continuous Product Development a Major Challenge
Major challenges for bioplastics are continuous improvement in the performance characteristics against its fossil fuel counterparts. Over reliance on feedstock supplies for better economies of scale is also a major challenge for the market growth. COVID-19 crisis is seen to make a significant impact on the market growth. A sharp decline in oil prices is likely to threaten the huge price gap between conventional plastics and bioplastics. However, the rise in single-use plastics in packaging during COVID-19 crisis will comfort the bioplastics market in long term. Another factor holding the market growth is developing disruptive technologies and scaling up them to the manufacturing scale as these options are expensive and complex.
Development and Innovation: Key to Success
Technological development and raw material innovation are considered as a mainstay for the companies operating in the bioplastics market. Companies such as Eastman have come up with cellulose-based bioplastics (Trēva™) which are sustainable and can replace existing engineering polymers like ABS. Novamont recently launched a new grade of bioplastics that can be composted in industrial plants in accordance to the standard UNI EN 13432. In 2018, Total Corbion PLA developed a novel technology that can create sterocomplex PLA for a wide range of industrial applications. This development provided a bio-based replacement for PA and PBT fibre reinforced products.