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‘Impressive’ growth for bioplastics

Europe – The bioplastics industry should continue its work into ‘making bioplastics a truly sustainable material – neutral in its impact on food production and biodiversity’, according to EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik. Speaking at the European Bioplastics Conference in Berlin last week, he stressed bioplastics ‘clearly have potential’ to enable the industry to ‘prosper in the future’.

The sustainability of bioplastics was examined during a panel discussion. ‘A life-cycle assessment (LCA) is still the best available tool to assess the environmental performance of bioplastics as fact-based as possible,’ noted Prof. Matthias Finkbeiner from the Technical University Berlin. And he described the European Commission’s Product Environmental Footprint approach as ‘LCA overkill introducing pseudo solutions in order to achieve comparability’.

PLA, biodegradable polyesters and starch blends are meanwhile demonstrating ‘impressive growth rates’, according to the annual market update from European Bioplastics and the Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites. Their production capacity is expected to gain some 60% by 2017.

Overall production capabilities for bioplastics are expected to grow from approximately 1.4 million tonnes in 2012 to more than 6 million tonnes in 2017.

The general trend is that ‘all material types are gaining ground’, with biobased, non-biodegradable ‘drop-in’ solutions such as biobased PE and biobased PET leading the field. ‘Our market data update once more affirms above-average growth in the bioplastics industry around the world,’ said François de Bie, chairman of the board of European Bioplastics. ‘Continuous growth can be expected with regard to all bioplastic material types and in a range of very diverse market segments – from packaging to fibres to consumer electronics.’

Production capacity expansions are currently focused on South America and Asia. ‘In order to stay competitive along the complete bioplastics value chain, Europe needs to step up its game,’ de Bie suggested. He called on the European Commission to establish a level playing field for the biobased industries in Europe as well as a ‘clear-cut policy framework’ for ‘promising markets’ such as bioplastics.

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