The Plastics Blog
By Don Loepp | About The Plastics Blog

Plant-based plastics: Growing, but 'no panacea'

By Don Loepp | December 6, 2012 06:00 am ET
Keywords: Recycling

Plant-based plastics account for less than 1 percent of total global resin demand -- but that could change quickly.

Hasso von Pogrell, managing director of the Berlin-based trade group European Bioplastics, told the EurActiv.com website that bioplastics are still a niche material, but it's still a market that's growing rapidly.

EurActiv has two stories about bioplastics: a Q&A interview with von Pogrell headlined "Industry chief: 'In the long run, there is no alternative to bioplastics'" and a story headlined "Plant-based plastics 'no panacea', Greens warn."

Some of von Pogrell's statistics are noteworthy. He said global bioplastic demand currently stands at about 1 million metric tons annually, but it's forecast to hit 6 million metric tons by 2016.

That's a drop in the bucket compared to total global resin production of 260 million metric tons.

But it's still becoming a very significant share of certain plastics markets -- especially PET beverage bottles, thanks to the push to the big soft drink companies' plans to use bio-based PET.



"The main driver is, of course, the growing demand for more sustainably developed consumer products. Brand-owners and OEMs are looking for ways to reduce their environmental footprint and replace limited fossil-based materials with renewable, bio-based solutions. More and more companies therefore integrate bioplastics into their corporate sustainability programs," von Pogrell said.

But not all environmentalists are sold on the benefits of plant-based plastics.

The story quotes Robbie Blake, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, saying that "Bioplastics raise exactly the same controversy about our over-consumption of land, and the damaging style of intensive plantation agriculture used to mass-produce the raw materials."

Plant-based plastics risk competing for land with food. And many bio-based resins, including PET and high density polyethylene, aren't biodegradable, so the environmental advantages over conventional resins aren't clear, he said.

"Other solutions for our insatiable appetite for plastic exist like reusable bottles, bags and packaging, recycling, and consuming less in the first place," Blake said.

I've covered the topic of plant-based plastics vs. recycled plastics before, and every time I mention it I get feedback from people who say it's not a question of one or the other -- plant-based plastics can be recycled.

I understand that point, but urge Blog readers to keep in mind that the real question is which material brand-owners want to use to meet their sustainability goals.

If a brand-owner wants to use 100 percent plant-based resins, what does that mean to the brand's use of recycled-content resins?

The last time I checked, you can't squeeze in any more than 100 percent.


Recent Blog Posts

How's the media treating plastics these days?   August 27, 2014 10:49 am ET
A peek behind our 2014 ranking of rotational molders   August 25, 2014 2:00 pm ET
More reshoring success stories with Wal-Mart connections   August 21, 2014 6:11 pm ET
Small country introducing plastic coins   August 20, 2014 10:48 am ET
Plastics company CEO speaks out on immigration reform   August 11, 2014 12:15 pm ET
Toyota cutting its fabled 'andon' cord   August 6, 2014 10:04 am ET

Comments

Plant-based plastics: Growing, but 'no panacea'

By Don Loepp

Published: December 6, 2012 6:00 am ET
Updated: January 5, 2013 10:18 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story

Market Reports

Thermoformed Packaging 2014 Market Review & Outlook North America

This in-depth report analyzes economic and market trends, legislative/regulatory activity impacting supply and demand, business opportunities and threats, materials pricing, manufacturing technology, as well as growth strategies being implemented by thermoformed packaging companies.

Learn more

Pipe, Profile & Tubing Extrusion in North America 2014

U.S. demand for extruded plastics is expected to grow by 3 percent in 2014, with PVC remaining the largest segment.

Plastic pipe will post the strongest gains through 2018, continuing to take market share from competing materials in a range of markets.

Our latest market report provides in-depth analysis of current trends and their financial impact on the pipe, profile and tubing extrusion industry in North America.

Learn more

2014 Injection Molding Industry Report

GROWTH, OPPORTUNITY IN SIGHT FOR INJECTION MOLDERS IN 2014

In the wake of the economic turbulence earlier in this decade, molders today find themselves in much better shape. Molders are gaining a competitive advantage by investing in people, equipment and seeking inroads into new markets on a global scale.

Growth in the injection molding industry is going to be driven by low financing costs and a continued move to reshore some business.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

September 10, 2014 - September 12, 2014Plastics Caps & Closures 2014

January 14, 2015 - January 14, 2015Plastics in Automotive

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

More Events