Despite being the largest consumer of plastics in the world, China's bioplastics potential is woefully neglected, according to a speaker at the Renewable Plastics conference taking place in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Bruno Rudnik, managing owner of Germany-based SusTech Consult, which promotes cleantech solutions in emerging markets, said that far too many plastics processing firms in China are unaware or have only little knowledge of bioplastics.
Comparing China with Thailand, one of the world's leaders when it comes to bioplastics, Rudnik said: “China is the number one plastics consumer but still has a very small bioplastics market, yet it is twenty times the size of Thailand in terms of population, has a greater GDP and chemical demand is 50 times greater.”
SusTech Consult this year conducted a survey of more than 100 plastics processing companies in the country to examine their attitude towards bioplastics. Out of those questioned, 75% were locally owned and 25% were joint ventures with foreign companies.
A massive 95% of those surveyed said they had not used bioplastics and all ranked biomaterials as less important than recycling, energy efficiency or hazard-free materials.
When asked why they had not used bioplastics, 38% blamed high material prices but 18% - nearly a fifth – said they didn't know anything about them.
“This confirms what we've been seeing and hearing from people on the field,” said Rudnik. “They don't feel they are being approached by western material suppliers.”
Nearly half of the respondents (47%) said that stricter legal regulations would encourage them to look at bioplastics but many do not see bioplastics becoming popular in the local market any time soon. Only 4% said bioplastics would account for more than 5% of plastics use in China in the next five years. A massive 78% predicted a longer 6-10 year time-frame.
“We doubt China is going to become a big production area [for bioplastics] but the key takeaway message is that China needs to be educated, especially the strong brand owners,” said Rodnik.
During the conference Rodnik also said the plastics industry needs to be aware of the heterogeneous nature of the Asian bioplastics market.
“For example Thailand is a large grower of feedstocks and is the world's second largest exporter of sugar,” he said. “Japan, on the other hand, has a large R&D cluster looking at bioplastics use but is not really a grower of feedstocks.”