The demand and market for biodegradable plastics are growing every year as a result of further bans and boycotts on single-use plastic items. Globally, the market value of biodegradable plastics is just over one billion dollars but this is likely to double in the next decade.
Biodegradable plastics are made from biological materials that allow the plastic to break down over time, unlike normal plastic products. These polymers can be composted and when disposed of, they undergo microbial decomposition and turn into carbon dioxide and water under the right conditions.
The expected growth of the biodegradable plastics industry
The current global demand for biodegradable polymers is around 360 000 tonnes per year but experts suggest that this demand will increase to 550 000 tonnes by 2023. This equates to an annual average growth rate of just over 10% for the next five years.
Western Europe holds 55% of the global market share for biodegradable plastics in 2018, followed by Asia, Australia and New Zealand with a combined share of 25%. The potential for the market to grow in Africa is very high as it currently consumes less than 1% of these plastics.
As market pressures on traditional plastic products increase every year, along with increasing consumer awareness of sustainability and tightening environmental regulations, the biodegradable plastics market will grow. In countries with fewer environmental laws, the growth of the market may be slower.
“The properties and processability of biodegradable polymers have improved, allowing the use of these materials in a broader range of applications, but legislation is the single most important demand driver for these plastics,” says the director of Specialty Chemicals at IHS Markit Dr Marifaith Hackett.
End-use markets for biodegradable plastics
The largest end-use markets for biodegradable plastics are the food packaging, disposable tableware and plastic bag industries. These sectors will be the main drivers of the value of biodegradable plastics over the coming few years.
Another major end-use market for biodegradable plastics will be compost bags. As more businesses, hotels and restaurants invest in composting machines, and more people become aware of diverting organic waste from landfills, the compost bag sector is going to experience significant growth.
“Biodegradable or compostable polymers can play a role in diverting waste from landfills. For example, biodegradable pods for single-serve coffee makers simplify the disposal of used capsules; compostable trash bags can control odours, minimise mess, discourage pests and otherwise reduce the ‘yuck’ factor associated with residential composting programmes,” says Dr Hackett.
Foam packaging, such as starch-based loose-fill packing peanuts, is also an end-use market for biodegradable polymers. Less significant (but still growing) markets where biodegradable plastics will be used include textiles, medical equipment and mining tools.
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