i2live: Bioplastics trade groups in US and Europe working toward greater awareness and government involvement in the material, which accounts for only 1% of all plastics but is projected to grow in coming years

LOS ANGELES , March 27, 2014 () – While bioplastics make up only 1% of plastics overall, trade groups in the U.S. and Europe are working toward greater awareness and government involvement in the material, which is projected to grow in coming years, said industry experts in a March 26 i2live webinar entitled, “Market development of bioplastics-rigid and flexible packaging solutions and end of life solutions.”

U.S.-based SPI Bioplastics Council aims to make it so that “bioplastics are not seen in the U.S. as something different from or being handled separately from the plastics industry, but they are an integrated part of it,” according to Steve Davies, industry chair of the SPI Bioplastics Council.

Industry Intelligence Editor's Note: For more information on bioplastics, click on Part 1—Bioplastics Defined, Part 2—The Market of Bioplastics, and Part 3—Future Developments of Bioplastics to read previous reports from a July 23 i2live webinar entitled, “Bioplastics: The Sustainable Plastics Evolution."

The U.S. Farm Bill that was passed this year is also expected to support bioplastics, as it mandates an increase of 150% from the prior year in funding for biobased markets programs, such as the USDA Biopreferred Program, which promotes the increased purchase and use of biobased products.

In 2012, Asia and South America boasted the highest production capacities of bioplastics, with an overall market share of 64.3% in the world, projected to reach 89.8% in 2017, according to trade group European Bioplastics. Meanwhile, the percentages in Europe and North America will shrink considerably between 2012 and 2017.

Around the world, Thailand and the U.S. are among the countries that have invested in bioplastics with strong public programs, said Kristy-Barbara Lange, head of communications at European Bioplastics.

She noted that Thailand has spent more than US$60 million to implement a detailed bioplastics development roadmap, including a new round of tax incentives announced in January 2013.

Meanwhile, “there is nearly nothing really reliable or concrete in Europe,“ which poses a major hindrance to planning and investments in bioplastics, Lange said.

She noted that while research and development and public procurement programs are strong in Europe, there is “no real concrete framework when it comes to market introduction measures.”

Back in the U.S., SPI aims to further the cause of bioplastics by addressing greenwashing, developing a toolkit that educates municipalities and other interested parties in bioplastics, and developing compostability standards.

In the future, bioplastics may also be composed of different materials than are used today. Currently, the majority of bioplastics is made from feedstocks such as corn and sugar, referred to as first-generation.

Lange noted that the feedstock used to make bioplastics makes up less than 0.01% of the global agricultural area of 5 billion hectares and is nowhere near being in competition with food or feed.

While second-generation and third-generation feedstocks (e.g. methane, plant waste) are not yet being used to manufacture bioplastics, they are being researched, but must be vetted to ensure sustainability, a viable yield and efficiency, Lange said.

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