“The global market for bioplastics is predicted to grow by 20 percent over the next five years. The transition to a low-carbon and circular economy, stronger policy support for the bioeconomy, and an increased consumer awareness for sustainable products and packaging are driving the expansion,” said François de Bie, Chairman of European Bioplastics (EUBP), the European association representing the interests of the bioplastics industry along the entire value chain. “Many of the pioneers in the industry are expanding their existing production capacities. They are responding to the increased demand for innovative and sustainable biopolymers by brands and consumers alike,” added de Bie.
Packaging remains the largest field of application for bioplastics with almost 60 percent (1.2 million tonnes) of the total bioplastics market in 2017. Despite the market growth predicted in the next five years, the farm land use share for bioplastics will remain around 0.02 percent. According to EUBP, this clearly shows that there is no competition between the renewable feedstock for food, feed, and the production of bioplastics. 
PLA and PHAs
The global bioplastics production capacity is set to increase from around 2.05 million tonnes in 2017 to approximately 2.44 million tonnes in 2022. Biopolymers such as PLA (polylactic acid) and PHAs (polyhydroxyalkanoates) are the main drivers of this growth.
PHAs are a polymer family that has been in development for a while and that now finally enters the market at commercial scale, with production capacities estimated to triple in the next five years. These polyesters are 100 percent bio-based, biodegradable, and feature a wide array of physical and mechanical properties depending on their chemical composition. Production capacities of PLA are also predicted to grow by 50 percent by 2022 compared to 2017. PLA is a very versatile material that features excellent barrier properties and is available in high-performance PLA grades that are an ideal replacement for PS (polystyrene), PP (polypropylene), and ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) in more demanding applications.
Bio-based, non-biodegradable plastics, including the drop-in solutions bio-based PE (polyethylene) and bio-based PET (polyethylene terephthalate), as well as bio-based PA (polyamides), currently make up for around 56 percent (1.2 million tonnes) of the global bioplastics production capacities. The production of bio-based PE is predicted to continue to grow as new capacities are planned to come online in Europe in the coming years.
Intentions to increase production capacities for bio-based PET, however, have not been realised at the rate predicted in previous years. Instead, the focus has shifted to the development of PEF (polyethylene furanoate), a new polymer that is expected to enter the market in 2020. PEF is comparable to PET but 100 percent bio-based and is said to feature superior barrier and thermal properties, making it an ideal material for the packaging of drinks, food and non-food products. In 2022, bio-based PP is expected to enter the market on a commercial scale with a strong growth potential due to the widespread application of PP in a wide range of sectors.
Brands participating in the European Bioplastics Conference outlined their efforts and initiatives to reduce their environmental footprint and the role of bioplastics in achieving these goals. Danone and Nestlé Waters, for instance, spoke about their combined efforts to introduce a 100 percent bio-based PET bottle by 2020 that uses second-generation ligno-cellulosic feedstock.
“We are witnessing a growing number of major brands switching from fossil-based to bio-based materials or to offer biodegradable solutions for their products in response to the increased consumer demand for more sustainable products and an overall change in awareness about the impacts of consumption choices on the environment,” concluded de Bie.