The global bioplastic packaging market was valued at $6142 million in 2015 and is expected to reach $25,368.7 million by 2022, a CAGR of 32.7 percent1, despite the huge complications in the production through agro-based raw materials. Bioplastic packaging represents more than 50 percent of the biodegradable plastics market demand.
The European Parliament recently took a plenary vote on waste legislation proposals around the EU Circular Economy Package. The vote of the Members of Parliament recognises the contributions of bioplastics to the EU circular economy and sends a clear signal that re-use and recycling remain of paramount priority in the pursuit of an EU circular economy. European Bioplastics (EUBP), the Berlin-based association representing the bioplastics industry in Europe, welcomes the positive outcome and support for the use of bio-based materials for packaging and improving market conditions for such materials and products.
“This vote is an important milestone in strengthening the link between the circular economy and the bioeconomy in Europe. Bio-based and recycled materials are starting to be equally recognised as a viable solution to make packaging more sustainable and reduce our dependency on finite fossil resources,” said François de Bie, Chairman of EUBP.
The Plenary also voted for amendments of the Waste Framework Directive that support a definition of recycling that includes organic recycling. A separate collection of bio-waste will be initiated across Europe, facilitated by certified collection tools such as compostable bio-waste bags. In addition, the MEPs have voted to exclude mechanically or organically recyclable waste from landfills.
“This will provide an important boost to the secondary resource market within the EU. Bio-based mechanically or organically recyclable plastics support circular thinking by lowering carbon emissions, helping to reach recycling quotas and keep valuable secondary raw materials and renewable carbon in the loop,” added de Bie.
At the same time, so-called oxo-degradable plastics - conventional plastic materials with artificial additives that do not biodegrade and endanger recycling and composting - are coming increasingly under fire in Europe.
Spain has announced plans to ban the sale of lightweight oxo-degradable bags from 2018 onwards. The new law implements the EU Directive to reduce the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags. The draft also includes a minimum price on plastic bags above 15 microns and labelling requirements to aid the distinction of compostable bags from non-compostable bags.
Spain is the second country in Europe to take concrete actions to limit the harmful impacts of oxo-degradable plastics. In July 2015, France prohibited the production, distribution, sale, provision and utilization of packaging or bags made partially or completely of oxo-degradable plastics.
The European Commission is currently undertaking an assessment on the impact of oxo-degradable plastics on the environment. As set out in the 2015 amendment of the EU Directive on packaging and packaging waste, "a set of measures to limit their consumption or to reduce any harmful impacts” shall be proposed, if appropriate. The results will be presented in 2018, at the latest.
"We have long been warning about the risks of oxo-degradable plastics and called out the increasing use of false and misleading labelling and greenwashing practices of some manufacturers of these materials," said Constance Ißbrücker, Head of Environmental Affairs at European Bioplastics.
According to Ißbrücker, biodegradability is an inherent property of a material or product resulting from the action of naturally occurring microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi, and algae. The process produces water, carbon dioxide, and biomass. No additives are needed and no fragments remain in the environment.
In the case of industrial composting, the requirements are clearly defined in internationally agreed standards such as EN13432, or ISO 18606. For biodegradation in other environments, other standards can and should regulate the framework conditions and pass/fail criteria.
On the other hand, oxo-degradable plastics are commonly fossil-based, non-biodegradable polyolefins or polyesters (PE or PET), supplemented with salts of transition metals. These additives are supposed to enable the biodegradation of apparently non-biodegradable plastics.
However, Ißbrücker says that, to date, no reproducible study has been able to provide satisfactory evidence for this, for example by measuring a significant amount of carbon dioxide evolvement, which is the standard indicator of and verification method for biodegradation.
Publications in support of oxo-degradable plastics have claimed about 60 percent biodegradation in two years, leaving the fate of the remaining 40 percent up to speculation. Apart from the comparatively long time span (EN 13432 requires 90 percent disintegration in 12 weeks and biodegradation of 90 percent within six months), there are serious implications.
It is assumed that oxo-degradable materials only disintegrate and finally visibly disappear under the influence of light (UV radiation) and oxygen. But if no real biodegradation takes place simultaneously and subsequently, the process of disintegration results from the formation of invisible plastic fragments, contributing to the ubiquitous environmental and health hazard of microplastics in the environment.
Enzyme-mediated plastics are another group of plastic materials supplemented with additives that are supposed to support biodegradation. Naturally-occurring biodegradation relies on enzymatic reactions initiated by naturally present organisms. The producers of enzyme-mediated plastics intend to emulate the process of biodegradation by adding enzymes to conventional polyolefins.
So far, no independent study or publication shows any positive results for such materials with regard to biodegradation, even though most of the producing companies claim that their plastics are 100 percent biodegradable or even compliant with accepted composting standards. These claims are often made not on the basis of conversion to carbon dioxide, but instead on the basis of mass loss, which Ißbrücker claims is not scientific proof of biodegradation taking place.
It is important to clearly differentiate between different concepts in this context. Enzyme-mediated plastics should not be confused with recent promising research efforts focussing on a kind of enzymatic recycling. In the latter case, waste of conventional plastics (such as PET or PU) is depolymerised through tailor-made enzymes. The obtained monomers can then function as raw material for the production of bioplastics such as PHA, which is biodegradable in numerous environments without the use of any supporting additives.
Biodegradable plastics developments and innovations
In other news, AIMPLAS, the Plastics Technology Centre, held its sixth International Seminar on Biopolymers and Sustainable Composites, in March 2017 in Valencia, Spain, with more than 170 professionals presenting developments and discussing challenges on producing biodegradable plastics from renewable sources.
Some seminar highlights:
- innovations in raw materials from renewable sources, such as castor-oil, sugar cane, corn, and milk whey
- demanding bioplastic applications such as resins to make recyclable skis, snowboards or kitesurf boards
- progress in the use of biopolymers in the food packaging sector, including developments in:
- heat-resistant packages for ready-to-eat food
- high barrier fresh food packaging to extend their shelf life
- The conference served sustainable coffee, using bioplastic capsules, spoons, cups and chocolate packaging.
- a review of current standards regulating the use of biopolymers in industry, including biotechnology and production of biopolymers from natural processes, such as fermentation or microorganisms.
- a panel discussion of success stories and the most recent industrial applications
- BASF showed new biodegradable coffee capsules developed for Cafés Novell
- Renault showed its circular economy policies and the role that biocomposites play
- API Institute demonstrated new developments of biopolymers for 3D printing, cords for the agriculture sector, and nets for the fishing sector
- AIMPLAS also presented the results of the OSIRYS project, focusing on biocomposites for façades and partitions to improve the air quality.
Bioplastics feeling the heat
Meanwhile, work in Japan is progressing to tackle the weakness of heat resistance in bioplastics. Tatsuo Kaneko, a professor at the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Ishikawa Prefecture, claims to have succeeded in producing a polyimide bioplastic that is resistant to high temperatures of about 400°C. Moreover, the bio-based polyimide is more transparent than conventional polyimides made from petroleum, which will allow a greater range of uses.
The raw material is amino cinnamic acid, whose molecular structure is similar to that of the spice cinnamon. Kaneko has synthesised the highly heatproof polyimide by turning glucose extracted from plants, such as corn and other materials, into amino cinnamic acid using genetically modified Escherichia coli bacteria and then irradiating the substance with ultraviolet light to change its molecular constitution.
Kaneko expects that the bioplastic will replace metals for automobile engine cylinders and other parts. Since it is transparent, Kaneko believes that it can be fit into window frames instead of glass or used for light covers and sunroofs.
- Statistics Market Research Consulting: Bio-Plastic Packaging – Global Market Outlook (2016-2022)
- European Bioplastics: Bioplastics market data
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