Thursday 5 June 2014

Bioplastic Opportunities and Challenges

Summaries of the papers given at the Bioplastics and Sustainable Composites conference at AIMPLAS, Valencia in March 2014 are being posted here...

Constance Brükerl, Environmental Affairs Manager at the European Bioplastics Association reviewed how the market for bioplastics was developing, making it clear that the Association which had been set up with biodegradable plastics in mind was now heavily involved with non-degradable materials i.e. conventional polymers produced from non-fossilized biomass.  These were now referred to as bio-based or durable bioplastics.
·         The Durable bioplastics market would grow seven-fold in the 5 years from 2012 to reach 5,000,000 tonnes by 2017, this growth being driven by PET30, a bottle polymer blend of 70% PET and 30% bio-PET.  (Clearly only 30% of the PET30 blend in this statistic is bio-PET)

  • ·         Bio-polyethylene would grow steadily and by 2017 “drop-in” bioversions of  PA, PU, PC, PVC, PP and durable starch blends would all be available.
  • ·         Use of foodcrops to make durable bioplastics was described as negligible: stopping it would confer no benefit to society.

·         Biodegradable plastics would grow from 600,000 tonnes in 2012 to a million tonnes in 2017, with half of this growth being driven by PLA expansion.
  • ·         75% of this market was in packaging, catering and agriculture.  Regenerated cellulose, presumably cellophane and acetate packaging film was included.
  • ·         Global production capacity for all bioplastics was 1.4 million tonnes in 2012  and would grow to 6.2 million tonnes by 2017.  By then Asia would have 45.8% of the capacity, South America 44%,  Europe 6.8%,  and the USA  3.4%.
  • ·         Concerns about using food crops to produce plastics were allayed by showing that in 2017, only 0.02% of the global agricultural area would be used for plastics and 1% for biofuels.
  • ·         Bio-based plastics would of course be recycled with their fossil-based counterparts, being chemically and physically indistinguishable.
  • ·         Biodegradable plastics would be used mainly for food packaging and would be collected with the compostable (green bin) waste. 
  • ·         EU shopping bag legislation was favouring biodegradables:
             o   France proposed a tax on non-biodegradable single use bags if the bio-based content was less than 40%
             o   Italy banned the use of non-biodegradable bags from end 2010.
             o   Portugal proposed reduction in the use of non-biodegradable bags in favour of biodegradables.
             o   UK was discussing a tax on single use plastic bags with biodegradables excepted.
             o   Romania would tax bags from non-renewables.
  • ·         Biodegradable shopping bags could be used for collecting domestic food waste which was being diverted from landfill to composting.
  • ·         Mixing of bio-based and biodegradables must be avoided by appropriate labelling.
  • ·         PLA appears to be a special case.  It cannot be recycled with PE or PET.  “A separate stream will become feasible with growing volume”

Asked how much biodegradable plastic could be tolerated in recycling, Ms Brükerl thought 10% would be the maximum and even this could cause problems in some streams.  The PE stream would be most tolerant.

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