Bright Future Forecast for Bioplastic Packaging

Bright Future Forecast for Bioplastic Packaging

Rising Demand for Bioplastic | Plastic Bag Ban Report
CLEVELAND, Ohio, July 3, 2012 (ENS) - Demand for bioplastics in the United States will expand "strongly" through 2016, when it is expected to reach 550 million pounds, valued at nearly $700 million, finds a new report by The Freedonia Group, issued Monday.

BioBased Product Symbol. Image and Design Copyright © 2012 Ted Duboise. All Rights Reserved.

Bioplastics, or organic plastics, are derived from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetable oil, corn starch, pea starch, fruit skins or microorganisms, rather than from petroleum, which is the source of traditional plastics. Most bioplastics are designed to biodegrade.

The Cleveland-based publisher of industry research predicts that although demand for biodegradable products will continue to be undercut by issues such as "their inability to decompose in landfills and their potential to contaminate the recycling stream," advances will occur due to a "widening composting network and greater processor familiarity."

Polylactic ACid (PLA)
Polylactic acid (PLA) is expected to remain the most extensively used resin in the bioplastics market through 2016, Freedonia forecasts.

Made from fermented plant starch - corn in the United States, tapioca in Asia, and sugarcane in the rest of world - PLA-based bioplastic is used for producing loose-fill packaging, compost bags, food packaging, and disposable tableware.

In the form of fibers and non-woven textiles, PLA can be used to make upholstery, disposable garments, awnings, feminine hygiene products, and diapers.

PLA also is used in biomedical applications, such as sutures, stents, dialysis media and drug delivery devices. It is being evaluated as a material for tissue engineering.

"Furthermore," Freedonia reports, "PLA is being blended with other resins and additives to create new grades that offer improved product performance, allowing for expanded use in an extended range of applications."

But PLA is not an ideal solution for the world's mountains of plastic waste. It is difficult to recycle. And it biodegrades very slowly and only under certain conditions.

According to Elizabeth Royte, writing in "Smithsonian," PLA may break down into carbon dioxide and water within three months in a "controlled composting environment," such as an industrial composting facility where the waste is heated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit and given digestive microbes.

But a PLA bottle could take from 100 to 1,000 years to decompose in a compost bin, or in a landfill packed so closely that no light and little oxygen enter.

BioBased Plastic
Freedonia reports that while biodegradable materials accounted for the vast majority of bioplastics volume in 2011, "the emergence of non-biodegradable bioresins will dramatically alter the market landscape." By 2021, these materials will represent more than two-fifths of volume demand.

Bio-based polyethylene, used in a packaging such as bottles and tubs, entered the market in 2010. It does not biodegrade but can be recycled.

Use of bio-based polyethylene is expected to increase rapidly from its current small base, as expansion of production capacity reduces prices and enables the plant-derived polyethylene to better compete with cheaper, but chemically-identical, petrol-based polyethylene.

The commercialization of a different bio-based plastic - polyethylene terephthalate (PET), also used to make beverage and food containers - is forecast to drive the market for non-biodegradable bioplastics, Freedonia predicts.

Large corporations are investing heavily in the development of this material.

In June, Coca-Cola, H.J. Heinz Company, Procter & Gamble, Nike and Ford announced the formation of the Plant PET Technology Collaborative, a strategic working group to accelerate development and use of 100 percent plant-based PET materials and fiber in their plastic bottles, apparel, footwear and automotive fabric and carpet.

The collaborative is based on Coca-Cola's PlantBottle™ packaging technology, which is made, in part, from plants and has demonstrated a lower environmental impact when compared to petrol-based PET plastic bottles. PlantBottles are featured in Dasani's PET water bottle and Odwalla's high-density polyethylene juice bottle.

Yet another non-biodegradable bioplastic for the rigid and flexible packaging markets - bio-based polypropylene, made with sugarcane ethanol - will be available in the United States by end of 2013, according to Braskem America Inc. This U.S. subsidiary of the Brazilian petrochemical giant was formed in 2010, when Braskem acquired Sunoco Chemicals.

Bioplastics made an appearance in Rio de Janeiro in June at Plasticity Rio '12, a one-day side event to the United Nations sustainable development summit.

Steve Davies, spokesman for Cargill subsidiary NatureWorks, supplier of 100 percent plant-based Ingeo™ plastics, told the Rio audence that brands large and small have rethought plastics with a "bioplastics cradle-to-cradle viewpoint."

Bioplastic's Future
"Although bioplastics have begun to achieve a considerable degree of commercial success, the industry remains in an early stage of development, representing only a small niche within the overall plastics industry," Freedonia reports. "Going forward, technical innovations and increased production capacity will combine to enhance the properties of bioplastics, boost their availability, and lower their price, thus making them more competitive with conventional polymers."

Freedonia points out that bio-based polymers benefit from more stable prices than petrol-based ones. "Moreover," the report states, "the desire to decrease dependence on foreign oil will further fuel the expansion of bio-based resins, as will efforts by U.S. manufacturers to enhance sustainability and improve the corporate image they project to an increasingly eco-conscious consumer base."

Biobased products also got a boost when U.S. President Barack Obama announced, in February of this year, an expanded "biobased products initiative" by the Federal government.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.