According to German market research institute Ceresana’s most recent Market Study: Bioplastics – the fifth report of its kind produced by the company - polylactic acids, starch blends, cellulose, and other bioplastics are achieving significantly higher growth rates than standard plastics based on fossil or mineral resources. And, the situation, say the analysts from Ceresana, is not likely to change. With their future development predicted to remain ‘dynamic’, bioplastics revenues are expected to reach approx. $4.4 billion by 2026.
The report once again clarifies the differences between the two groups of materials known as bioplastics, a term that has consequently generated confusion in the market. First, there is a group of bioplastics that are biodegradable. These biodegradable plastics may or may not be renewably sourced, but all can be composted, some at home and others at industrial composting facilities. The second group of bioplastics refers to plastics that are based on biomass. The important characteristic here is therefore their source of feedstock. Bioplastics in this group may or may not be biodegradable.
Biodegradable plastics, such as polylactic acids (PLA) and starch-based polymers, represent a market share of 56% of the total bioplastics market in 2018. According to Ceresana, an annual volume growth of 7.1% up until 2026 for this product group may be expected. The growth of the non-biodegradable drop-in materials - bio-based plastics such as polyethylene, PET, or PA made from sugar cane, is likely expected to be weaker, at 5.1% per year.
The main application will remain packaging. In 2018, this sector accounted for over 60% of bioplastics consumption – mainly processed into bags, sacks, and other types of packaging. However, Ceresana foresees the percentage of bioplastics applied in the automotive and electronics industry to show the strongest gain, at 8.4% per year.
The bioplastics industry also still faces a number of challenges if it is to make inroads on the use of conventional plastics. Issues such as pricing, availability, and quality need to be resolved in order to be able to compete with fossil-based materials.
The current ‘green premium’ requires these materials to offer added value in order to justify the price difference to consumers. And while recycling and composting are an advantage for many applications, steps must be taken to adapt the existing infrastructure of both the waste management and the sorting companies in this respect. Problems arise where recycling plants are not designed to separate bioplastics out or the industrial composting facilities available are unable to biodegrade them. For example, in some cases, the temperatures needed for the rapid composting of bags made from bioplastic are not always reached.
The report also features the company profiles of the most important manufacturers of bioplastics, among whom Agrana Beteiligungs-AG, BASF SE, Braskem S.A., Far Eastern New Century Corporation (FENC), NatureWorks LLC, Novamont S.p.A., Rodenburg Biopolymers BV, Solvay SA, Teijin Limited, and Vegeplast S.A.S..