Bloomberg Business has a headline today that will grab the attention of plastics industry readers: "War on Plastics Will Be Won With Trees, Stora Enso CEO Says."
The story is based largely on an interview of Karl-Henrik Sundstroem, CEO of Stora Enso Oyj — Europe's biggest paper manufacturer, according to Bloomberg. According to the story, Helsinki, Finland-based Stora Enso has spent billions "shifting from the declining paper business to focus on innovative wrappings."
What's going on is that paper makers like Stora Enso are suffering because of the decline of products like daily newspapers, catalogs and junk mail. So they need to find new markets in order to survive, let alone grow.
Does this mean plastics processors should be worried that paper packaging manufacturers are out for blood? Not exactly. Stora Enso and other paper makers aren't just re-fighting the paper vs. plastic battle. They want to get in on the growing market for biopolymers.
The global market for bioplastics is pretty small right now compared to conventional plastics, but it has a lot of potential. According to European Bioplastics, a trade group that represents the bioplastics industry (and one that I consider the most reliable source of information on this topic), production capacity for bioplastics will increase 360 percent to approximately 7.8 million metric tons in the next four years.
Bloomberg is doing this story now because of the United Nation climate talks in Paris, which put a spotlight on how global businesses may be impacted if nations around the world put restrictions on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.
Before there's a widespread move to paper-based polymers, the industry will have to prove that their carbon footprint is a significant improvement over plastics made from natural gas and oil. And with inexpensive and plentiful natural gas — and oil, at least now — there's going to be a cost-benefit analysis to consider, too.
I don't think it matters to plastics processors if the pellets they mold and extrude come from shale gas or trees. Pellets are pellets, and as long as they can compete with other materials, they'll be OK.