News

Biodegradable plastics demand to grow 15 per cent annually to 2015: report

Mounting consumer pressure and legislation such as plastic bag bans and global warming initiatives will increase demand for biodegradable plastics in North America, Europe and Asia by nearly 15 per cent annually until 2015, according to a new...


Print this page

April 23, 2013 by Canadian Plastics

Mounting consumer pressure and legislation such as plastic bag bans and global warming initiatives will increase demand for biodegradable plastics in North America, Europe and Asia by nearly 15 per cent annually until 2015, according to a new report by research firm IHS Chemical.

“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 Houston-based IHS Chemical and the report’s lead author. “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.”

The report also noted that these biodegradable polymers offer expanding uses for biomedical applications. Another developing use for these biodegradable polymers is in the shale gas industry, where they are used during hydro-fracking.

In 2012, Europe was the dominant market for biodegradable polymers, consuming about 55 per cent of world consumption; North America accounted for 29 per cent; and Asia approximately 16 per cent, the report said. Landfill waste disposal and stringent legislation are key market drivers in Europe and include a packaging waste directive to set recovering and recycling targets, a number of plastic bag bans, and other collection and waste disposal laws to avoid landfill.

North American consumption of biodegradable polymers has grown significantly in recent years, according to the IHS report, primarily due to biodegradable polymers becoming more cost competitive with petroleum-based products, and growing support at the local, state/provincial, and federal levels for these products.

In Asia, there has been some growth of biodegradable polymers use due to government and industry promoting their use. This also includes plastic bag bans and global warming initiatives. However, Asian consumption of biodegradable polymers has not increased as much as expected. Current market prices of biodegradable polymers continue to be higher than conventional, petroleum-based resins. However, the Chinese market is expected to grow rapidly due to new capacity and government legislation supporting the environment. Future growth will also depend on price reductions, Malveda said.

In 2012, the two most important commercial, biodegradable polymers were polylactic acid (PLA) and starch-based polymers, accounting for about 47 per cent and 41 per cent, respectively, of total biodegradable polymers consumption. Starch sources vary worldwide, but include corn, potatoes, cassava and sugar beets. In Europe, starch-based biodegradable polymers are the major type consumed, accounting for 62 per cent of the market, due to Europe’s large, starch-based capacity and their use in many applications. This is followed by PLA, with 24 per cent and other biodegradable polymer types with 14 per cent.