Adoption of Bioplastics and Biopolymers Thrive Towards Sustainability Goals

September 06, 2021 | Articles

Bioplastics and biopolymers are biodegradable plastics obtained from biological substances to produce straws, pots, crockery, etc. Prevailing environmental concerns due to the harmful effects of plastic impact the growth of bioplastics and biopolymers production companies. The global bioplastics and biopolymers market is valued at USD 6,078.6 million and is expected to expand at a CAGR of 13.8% during the forecast period.

Consumers are shifting towards green formats and are, therefore, more inclined towards bioplastics and biopolymers, mainly PLA, due to their copious benefits over conventional plastic products. Additionally, the prolific availability of natural resin in the Asia-Pacific region has added to the high consumption of bioplastics and biopolymers.

The global bioplastics and biopolymers market has pervasive growth potential and is foreseen to expand remarkably during the forecast period. High demand from the packaging industry and soaring health concerns from petroleum-derived plastic are expected to boost the sales of bioplastics and biopolymers by the next decade.

Adverse Effects of Plastics give Birth to Substitutes

The accumulated plastic waste and sequential uncontrolled plastic pollution are significant environmental difficulties faced by the government and agencies. 

Global plastic production reached nearly 370 million metric tons in 2019. According to the UNEP, merely 9% of all plastic produced has been recycled, 12% has been incinerated, and the remaining has been piled up in landfills. Traditional plastic releases harmful gases during the production process, which is a matter of concern.

Plastic produced from renewable sources is perceived to obtain a lesser carbon footprint as the raw materials take up carbon dioxide during their production and mitigate the economy’s dependency on fossil fuels. The adoption of bioplastics and biopolymers in fields such as carrier bags, soil cover films, and single-use packaging is also proposed as part of technological progress in the bio-economy.

Additionally, petroleum-based plastics possess adverse effects on health when exposed to heat. As a result, food and beverage end-use industries are gradually shifting towards paper, metal, and other green packaging formats. The manufacturers and consumers are well aware of the consequences of plastic and are, therefore, inclining towards sustainable options.

Factors Drawing the Adoption of Bioplastics and Biopolymers

Bioplastics and biopolymers reduce fossil fuel dependency by utilizing renewable resources and substituting existent plastics with bio-based equivalents. Adoption of bioplastics and biopolymers provides potential environmental benefits of GWP reduction. Additionally, the adoption of compostable plastics, where organic contamination is suspected, simplifies waste management and returns carbon to soil as compost.

Anaerobic absorption of biodegradable plastics provides an optimal ratio of carbon to nitrogen in the process, causing fewer emissions. Biodegradable plastics substitute non-degradable plastics in products that have the potential to leak into the environment, overcoming plastic pollution. As a result, bioplastics and biopolymers are gaining significant traction due to various benefits over petroleum-based plastic.

According to European Bioplastics, the global production of bioplastics in 2020 was around 2.1 million tonnes and is expected to increase by 2.8 million tonnes by 2025. Contrary to the production capacities of 2019, an increase in bioplastic production, especially in biodegradable plastic-type such as PLA, PHA, PBS, Starch blends, etc., is foreseen. It is due to a faster and natural breakdown process over traditional plastics, as biodegradable plastics are discarded and absorbed back into the system.

Figure 1: Global Production Capacities of Bioplastics in Thousand Tons, 2019–2020

Global-Production-Capacities-of-Bioplastics-in-Thousand-Tons-2019-2020

Source: European Bioplastics, nova-institute (2020)

Regions Viable for Bioplastics and Biopolymers

The production volumes for bioplastics and biopolymers account for less than 1% of total global plastic production. It is arduous to replace traditional plastics with bioplastics and biopolymers as petroleum-based plastic offers more durability, versatility, etc. Continuous R&Ds take place to increase the applicability of bioplastics and biopolymers in several end-use industries and abandon the use of petroleum-based plastic shortly. Moreover, in five years, the production capacities are set to increase exponentially. The raw material is available in the form of resins obtained from natural resources.

The Asia-Pacific region commands the production of over 45% of bioplastics and biopolymers, marked at a value of USD 2,548.3 million in 2021. China is expected to have the largest market for bioplastics and biopolymers in the region. Bioplastics are produced by companies in Europe, the USA, and Asia, with some prominent companies being Corbion N.V. (Netherlands), CJ CheilJedang (Korea), BASF (Germany), NatureWorks LLC (USA), Tianjin Guoyun (China), and Novamont (Italy).

Presently, one-fourth of the production capacity is located in Europe, marking the second position in the global bioplastics and biopolymers market, 2021. This share is foretold to grow up to 28% by 2025. Europe is susceptible to become a key producer of bioplastics and biopolymers due to imposition of stringent government regulations over the plastic ban. Therefore, bioplastics and biopolymers will play a vital role in achieving a circular economy by the next decade.

Figure 2: Bioplastics and Biopolymers Market Value (USD Million) by Regions, 2021

Bioplastics-and-Biopolymers-Market-Value-by-Regions-2021

Source: Straits Research Analysis

For the majority of the bio-based and biodegradable plastics, numerous suppliers are available, and bio-based and biodegradable plastics are readily available, but they may vary for specific types.

Table 1: Availability of Bio-based and Biodegradable Plastics as Experienced by WFBR and the Global Number of Producers, by Type (Nova Institute, 2015)

Polymer Type

Producers 2013

Availability 2016

Comments

CA

17

Good

Has been in the market for a long time, with limited application in food packaging.

Bio-PA

9

Good

An increasing number of producers and grades, limited application in food packaging.

Bio-PE

1

Sufficient

In Europe, bio-PE produced by Braksem is currently distributed by FKuR, Resinex, Mibepea, and Polydist for a specific region.

Bio-PET

5

No experience

FKuR markets bio-PET in Europe.

PBAT

4

Sufficient

Increasing, but since most PBS is produced in Asia, it is sometimes difficult to acquire. Some grades are food contact approved, and some grades are 50% bio-based.

PHA

14

Poor

Small enterprises

PLA

28

Good

Has been in the market for a long time and in a bond variety of grades. Increasing production capacity and new producers are expected. Food contact approved.

Starch Blends

15

Sufficient

Various suppliers, a broad range of grades, and technologies. Not all grades are food contact approved.

Cost of Bioplastics and Biopolymers

Bio-based and biodegradable plastics are costlier than fossil-based plastics. Further, most bio-based plastics have pronounced density, which adds to the higher price. There are, however, certain price limitations on a product level. Design modifications and explicit material properties allow material savings; for instance, PLA is stiffer than PS, thereby PLA products can be down-gauged in thickness.

Prices of petroleum-based plastics are reliant on oil prices and swing with oil prices. In contrast, the prices of bio-based plastics are stagnant. The higher the oil prices, the costlier is PS. However, with low oil prices in the U.S., PLA prices are close to market prices PET and PS. It is expected that prices of bio-based plastics will drop shortly, as the economic scale is achieved and logistics mature favorably.

Additionally, succinic acid is fabricated more effectively from biomass than fossil feedstock. It is suspected that with an increased production volume, the price of bio-PBS will drop from 4 to 2.6 €/kg.

Reason for PLA’s Traction in the Market

PLA or polylactic acid possesses several characteristics, which makes it the most prevalent bioplastic. PLA is stiffer, has a smoother appearance, and has a low energy consumption during production. It is stable, has moderate heat resistance, and can produce a consistent performance for a long duration.

Polylactic acid is prominent because it has numerous advantages, such as production of lactide monomer from lactic acid by fermentation of corn, fixation of carbon dioxide by corn production, recycling lactide monomers to lactic acid by hydrolysis or alcoholysis, production of compostable hybrid paper-plastic packaging, reduction of landfill volumes, and improvement of the agricultural economy.

The applications of PLA have widened with usage in durable structural parts, generating high demand. Besides property enhancement with suitable additives, the materials must satisfy the compostable standards outlined in ASTM D6400 or EN 13432. Strategies such as plasticization, copolymerization, and melt blending have improved the toughness and ductility of PLA.

PLA is imported worldwide due to these characteristic features. In 2019, nearly 1,89,442 tonnes of bioplastic were imported worldwide, whereby China was on the top, followed by Germany.

Table 2: PLA Import in Tonnes, 2015–2019

Importers

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

Imported Quantity in Tons

World

85525

86103

111991

162231

189442

China

8003

8108

11723

15794

24317

Germany

13857

10794

16169

20683

21117

Italy

7258

8452

8113

12100

19676

Japan

3411

4001

4697

4926

4518

The USA

202

503

726

244

2764

The U.K.

1206

2139

2322

2935

2516

Canada

1376

2279

1548

956

1509

India

6

18

446

216

885

France

824

283

343

646

686

Spain

134

318

461

1188

581

Mexico

588

775

453

123

365

Hong Kong, China

391

517

388

307

348

Saudi Arabia

33

5

78

11

324

Brazil

117

112

37

49

68

South Africa

0

1

1

5

47

Australia

31

18

22

48

26

Impact of Covid-19 and Associated Challenges

Covid-19 has led to the disruption of the supply chain, production capacities and has adversely affected the businesses. Due to prolonged production stoppages and a ban on transportation, several end-use industries had to bear tremendous losses. Thus, the bioplastics and biopolymers market observed negative growth. However, the relaxations announced by the regulatory bodies are expected to impact the market growth positively.

Besides Covid-19, bioplastics and biopolymers have faced many challenges, turning into a downfall. High production costs and lower performance can be a major restraint in the sales of bioplastics and biopolymers. The small market volume does not justify major investments as bioplastics and biopolymers require R&Ds for full-fledged adoption. Further, feedstock competition with biofuel and the food industry can hamper growth. The risk of fouling recycling streams with biodegradable plastics, and a lack of dedicated composting and recycling infrastructure and logistics, would impose hurdles for bioplastics and biopolymers.

Biodegradable vs. Non-biodegradable

Bioplastics and biopolymers are categorized into two types, biodegradable or bio-based and non-biodegradable. The biodegradable category holds the highest market share and is expected to produce nearly 1.79 million tonnes by 2025.

Innovative bioplastics and biopolymers such as bio-based PP and PHAs are expected to drive the growth. PLA will also expand by 19.5% due to investments in PLA manufacturing sites in Europe, the USA, and China by 2025. PLA and PHA are biodegradable and highlight a wide array of mechanical and physical attributes. These are expected to hold nearly 30% of the market by 2025, collectively.

PP is one of the most popular and versatile plastics with excellent barrier properties. A bio-based version of olefine has been predicted for many years. For bio-based PE, new production volumes are planned to open in Europe and Latin America over the coming years and are liable to outshine and hold 11.1% by 2025.

Further, bio-based PET will offer a share of nearly 3.3% of the overall capacities. Bio-based, non-biodegradable plastics such as bio-based PET, PE, PA are supposed to hold nearly 25% share.

Purposes to expand production capacities have not been accomplished at the rate foretold in previous years. The focus has turned to the advancement of PEF, a new polymer presumed to enter the market in 2023. PEF is analogous to PET but is bio-based and possesses superior barrier characteristics, presenting it as a supreme material for beverage bottles.

Figure 3: Global Production Capacities of Bio-based/Non-Biodegradable Bioplastics (Million Tonnes), 2025

100%= 1.07 Mn Tonnes

Global-Production-Capacities-of-Bio-based-or-Non-Biodegradable-Bioplastics-2025

Source: European Bioplastics, Nova-Institute (2020)

Figure 4: Global Production Capacities of Biodegradable Bioplastics (Million Tonnes), 2025

100%= 1.79 Mn Tonnes

Global-Production-Capacities-of-Biodegradable-Bioplastics-2025

Source: European Bioplastics, Nova-Institute (2020)

Packaging Industry Outshines Varied End-Use Industries

Packaging remains the largest field of application for bioplastics and biopolymers, wherein the flexible packaging end-use industry is expected to have the highest production by 2025. Several other end-use industries such as consumer goods, agriculture, and textile continue to diversify. Segments such as automotive, building, and construction products continue to increase their relative share as these end-use industries use traditional plastics for raw materials. The reason being, bioplastics and biopolymers don’t offer some properties, which are required to replace conventional plastic.

Figure 5: Global Production Capacities of Bioplastics by End-Use Industry (Tonnes), 2025

Global-Production-Capacities-of-Bioplastics-by-End-Use-Industry-2025

Source: European Bioplastics, Nova-Institute (2020)

Developments for Enhancement of Businesses

  • NatureWorks announced a new strategic partnership with IMA Coffee in April 2021. This partnership aims at enhancing the market reach for high-performing compostable K-cup in North America.
  • In May 2021, the Thailand Board of Investment (BOI) approved NatureWorks Asia Pacific Co. Ltd.'s application to invest nearly USD 490 million (15 billion baht) to produce Polylactic Acid (PLA), a low-carbon-footprint polymer derived from agricultural feedstocks, reflecting Thailand's attraction to foreign investors as a bioplastics production base.
  • In May 2021, BioPlas has strategized to expand its production capacity and put out 1,000 tons of products a month.
  • BioLogiQ, Inc., a company specializing in eco-friendly plastics, has newly introduced a new biopolymer called NuPlastiQ BC. These biopolymers are produced using biodegradable resins such as PHA, PLA, and PBAT. 
  • Braskem and Ledesma (Argentina) cooperated to deliver Ledesma + Bio in August 2019, a line of 100% sustainable notebooks made entirely of sugarcane.

Morrow of Bioplastics and Biopolymers

Future projections of a circular economy emphasize that a combination of recycled and bio-based resources will serve as a feedstock for plastic needs. However, a heavy investment in new technologies, including advanced recycling tech and bio-based plastic capacity, is required to obtain an ideal future. It is expected that sustainable plastics will make over 15% of production by 2030.

The adoption of conventional and advanced recycling, bio-based plastics, and alternative materials quantifies the impact of bans and other regulations to predict the future of sustainable plastics. Single-use plastics are in crosshairs with consumers and regulators, and companies across varied industries are trying to deploy sustainable solutions. Both companies that produce plastics and use them in their products need to understand the outlook for sustainable plastics and alternatives to prepare the strategy.

Segmentation of Bioplastics and Biopolymers Market

Based on the Type:

  • Biodegradable
    • PLA
    • Starch Blends
    • PHA
    • PBS
    • Others
    • PCL
    • PBAT
  • Non-Biodegradable/Biobased
    • BIO-PET
    • BIO-PABIO-PE
    • BIO-PTT
    • Others
    • BIO-PP
    • BIO-PEF

Based on the End-Use Industry:

  • Packaging
    • Rigid Packaging
    • Flexible Packaging
  • Consumer Goods
    • Electrical Appliances
    • Domestic Appliances
    • Others
  • Automotive and Transportation
    • Interior
    • Exterior
    • Under Hood
  • Textiles
    • Medical and Healthcare Textile
    • Personal care, clothes, and other textiles
  • Agriculture and Horticulture
    • Tapes and Mulch Films
    • Others
  • Others

Based on the Regions:

  • North America
  • Latin America
  • Europe
  • APAC
  • MEA

Key Players

  • NatureWorks
  • Braskem and Ledesma
  • BASF 
  • Total Corbion
  • Novamont
  • Biome Bioplastics
  • Mitsubishi Chemical Holding Corporation
  • Biotec
  • Toray Industries
  • Plantic Technologies


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