Consumer pressure and legislation such as plastic bag bans and global warming initiatives will increase demand for biodegradable plastics, according to a new report.
Demand in in North America, Europe and Asia will rise to nearly 525,000 tonnes in 2017, from 269,000 tonnes in 2012, representing an average annual growth rate of nearly 15%.
Food packaging and food-service products will drive demand for biodegradable polymers, with demand rising to double-digit levels in North America and Europe, according to Houston-based HIS Chemical. Foam packaging and compostable bags will be the top products, in terms of volume.
"The biodegradable polymers market is still young and very small, but the numbers are off the charts in terms of expected demand growth and potential for these materials in the coming years," said Michael Malveda, principal analyst of specialty chemicals at IHS Chemical and the report's lead author, in a news release.
"Food packaging, dishes and cutlery constitute a major market for the product because these materials can be composted with the food waste without sorting, which is a huge benefit to the waste management effort and to reducing food waste and packaging disposal in landfills. Increasing legislation and consumer pressures are also encouraging retailers and manufacturers to seek out these biodegradable products and materials."
In 2012, Europe accounted for about 55% of global demand for biodegradable polymers, followed by North America at 29% and Asia at 16%.
"A couple of main barriers to these biodegradable polymers are price and performance, which will become less significant as processing technologies improve, more applications for their use are developed, and production increases," Malveda said. "Regulations such as plastic bag bans are being enacted in many countries, and this stimulates new research investments for alternative materials and new uses."
Grown of biodegradable polymers in Asia has been slowed by high prices for the raw materials, he said.
Polylactic acid currently accounts for about 47% of global biodegradable plastics demand, followed by starch-based plastics at 41%, according to the report.