The European Bioplastics association says bioplastics accounted for only 0.006% of the world's agricultural land in 2011 so is “nowhere near” in competition with food and feed supplies.
The association compiled data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites in Germany, which suggests that the surface required to grow sufficient feedstock for today's bioplastic production is less than 1% of the global agricultural area of five billion hectares.
“Metaphorically speaking, this ration correlates to the size of an average cherry tomato placed next to the Eiffel Tower,” says the report.
Kristy-Barbara Lange, head of communications at European Bioplastics, says the association wanted to release the facts and move away from “emotional” talk about how to feed the world.
“For bioplastics we rely on certain feedstocks so there are lots of discussions about good agricultural practices,” she told European Plastics News. “However, there are sometimes emotional discussions about feeding the growing global population.”
She added: “Of course hunger is a problem but it has a lot to do with problems with distribution and waste. Production is actually sufficient.”
According to the report, around 37% (5bn hectares) of the world's land surface is currently used for agriculture. This includes pastures (70%, approximately 3.5bn hectares) and arable land (30%, approximately 1.4bn hectare).
The 30% of arable land is further divided into areas predominantly used to grow crops for food and feed (27%, approximately 1.29bn hectares), as well as crops for materials (2%, approximately 100m hectares, including the share used for bioplastics), and crops for biofuels (1%, approximately 55m hectares).
However, European Bioplastics says bioplastic production capacities are growing faster outside Europe. In 2011, Europe accounted for 18.5% of global production but this is predicted to fall to 4.9% by 2016.
The association says the EU needs to implement more favourable framework conditions to attract investment and secure its place in the bioplastics market.
Lange says that unlike in the US or Thailand, where there are concrete initiatives to support bioplastics, there is only general support in Europe.
“Europe is the important market for bioplastics - and research is strong - but some parts of the value chain are going amiss,” she said.