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Ever Evolving Bioplastics Landscape: Bioplastics Redefined!

SpecialChem / Donald Rosato – Sep 5, 2011

The word bioplastics is no longer limited to biodegradable or compostable plastics made from natural materials such as corn or starch. Bioplastics are also being applied to petroleum based plastics that are degradable; natural-based plastics that are not necessarily biodegradable; and plastics that contain both petroleum-based and plant-based materials that could biodegrade or not. Public concern about the environment, climate change and limited fossil fuel resources are important drivers for governments, companies, and researchers to find alternatives to petroleum-based plastic materials.

While bioplastics are being embraced, a number of issues continue to pose challenges such as oil price volatility with a tight balance between oil supply and demand in the world market any incident or crisis can send oil prices soaring or plummeting. Higher prices compared with traditional plastics competing with low cost fossil fuel is one of the main challenges for bioplastics, which can cost anywhere from 10% to 100% more than traditional plastics, depending on the grade and type of chemical compound being produced. An estimated trillion single use plastic bags are consumed each year globally with only a small percentage of these bags recycled each year a good starting point application for bioplastics. Many bioplastics which meet international compostability standards are only compostable in industrial composting facilities. Global bioplastics production is forecast to reach 1.5 million metric tonnes by 2011 from the estimated 0.3 million tonnes in 2009, while the global capacity will reach 2.3 million tonnes by 2013. PLA producer NatureWorks is experiencing growth rates of 30% which it expects to maintain into the foreseeable future.

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