Bioplastics will become more price competitive, say manufacturers

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Producers and packaging associations claim investment will drive improvements to cost, performance and moisture barrier properties of bioplastics and will enable the industry to compete more effectively with conventional plastics.

Christophe Doukhi de Boissoudy, president of the Club des Bioplastiques, told attendees at the conference section of the Emballage 2008 trade show that the development of bioplastics has been hindered by high costs.

He predicts that with more investment in R&D to enable the fine tuning of bioplastics the cost gap with petroleum-based plastics will be drastically reduced.

Doukhi de Boissoudy added that producers of bioplastic packaging are aiming to compete on price with conventional producers by 2015.

Market predictions

Meanwhile, the BCC research group said that the market for biodegradable plastics, in terms of volume, reached 541 million lbs in 2007, and is expected to reach 1.2 billion lbs by 2012.

And market research firm Freedonia predicts that natural polymer demand will grow 7.1 per cent annually to $4bn in 2012, with expansion due in part to improved production technologies for materials such as PLA.

High growth is on the cards but bioplastic manufacturers must ensure that production is sustainable, said communication spokesperson for European Bioplastics, Melanie Gentzik.

Gentzik called for all parties involved in the production of bioplastics to support sustainable development, and to take into account that no raw material has unlimited availability and therefore the most efficient use of resources must be achieved.

“Bioplastics should be regarded as a solution to promote sustainable development and not as a threat to it,”​ she said.

Energy used in production

Although bioplastics are not derived from fossil fuels, they are used to produce the energy needed in manufacturing. To make the final product as sustainable as possible manufacturers are working hard to keep their fossil fuel use to a minimum.

Italian bioplastic manufacturer Novamont said that that producing one kilogram uses around 80 per cent of the energy required to produce a traditional polyethylene polymer.

And environmental data from NatureWorks, manufacturer of PLA bioplastic, says that making its plastic material delivers a fossil fuel saving of between 25 and 68 per cent compared with polyethylene, in part due to its purchasing of renewable energy certificates for its manufacturing plant.

According to the company, its PLA can be physically recycled, composted through industrial processes, incinerated via waste to energy systems, and also chemically recycled back into its base monomer unit of lactic acid.

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