A new paper from the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. argues that the bio-based plastics industry is not necessarily tied to a robust biorefining industry.
Developed by the group's Bioplastics Council, the 10-page paper looks at ways and implications that allow the bio-based plastic industry to grow independently of biofuels.
Bio-based plastics represent less than 1 percent of all plastics and with the advent of shale gas, “it is even less probable that bio-based plastics would displace all conventional plastics” in the future, the report said.
Consumers are environmentally conscious, showing preference for products containing bio-based plastics, “but only if price and performance are not compromised,” the report said. Consumers won't pay a premium for bio-based plastics.
The resources used to make plastics continue to evolve, the paper said, with food and feed crops used for biomaterials including canola, cassava, corn, flax, rice, sorghum, soybeans, sugar beets, sugarcane and wheat.
“While these feedstocks could be used for food, the diversity of crop options offers the opportunity to select the most efficient and least ecologically disruptive choice for a given locale,” the report said.
Many brand owners, including Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, Unilever and Nestlé, have stated they want to move packaging to renewable feedstocks.
“In addition to the societal and environment advantages of using non-food feedstocks, there are economic ramifications. As buyers of huge amounts of food commodities, it would be counterproductive for these companies to take actions that could drive up food prices,” the report said.
“It is quite reasonable to assume that the bioplastics industry will follow the same pattern that the petrochemicals and traditional plastics industry followed a century ago in being dependent on the byproducts of fuel production,” said Carol Van Zoeren, technology manager for packaging and industrial products at DuPont Co. and chair of the Bioplastics Council's Beginning of Life Committee, in a statement. “We have examined the fundamental differences — demand, technology, infrastructure — between then and now and our determination is that while bioplastics could certainly benefit from a robust biofuels industry, these differences suggest that other patterns may be possible.”
The paper can be viewed online and SPI plans to hold a webinar at 11 a.m. Sept. 10 to discuss its findings.