According to recent studies by Ceresana Research and The Freedonia Group, the global bioplastics market will expand 17.8 percent annually and reach nearly $2.9 billion million by 2015.

Bioplastics' Outlook

Bioplastics can be defined as a plastic that is either biodegradable, composed of biological materials or both. The most common bioplastics today are starch-based followed by polylactic acid (PLA). Several companies already produce PLA films that are synthesized from processed corn. These films come from renewable resources and may biodegrade under certain conditions. Furthermore, making PLA requires 30 percent to 50 percent less fossil fuel than polymers synthesized from hydrocarbons, thus reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Other bio-based plastics (PHA/PHB, cellulose, PBS) as well as fossil-based biodegradable plastics accounted for just less than 17 percent of global demand.

Bioplastics are supposed to contribute to protecting the environment, reduce waste issues, minimize the dependence on non-renewable raw materials, and improve the image of plastic products. Freedonia’s study notes that price considerations will be the primary determinant of bioplastic market success, and that rising petroleum costs will allow certain bioplastics to achieve price parity with conventional plastics by 2020. As a result, the demand for bioplastics will increase to 1.1 million tons by 2015.

Biodegradable plastics are currently dominating the market with roughly a 92 percent share. Despite the strong advances for biodegradables, non-biodegradable bio-based resins will be the primary driver of bioplastics demand through 2015 and beyond, Freedonia’s report notes.

One such bioplastic, produced by ’s Uflex Ltd, is GreenPET. The polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is made from oxidized paraxylene PTA and a 30 percent ethanol based MEG resin. The film maintains the same properties as conventional PET.

In addition, last August, Cortec Corporation launched its new EcoOcean bioplastic. The film, which according to Cortec, is anaerobic and marine biodegradable, is one of several new advances in the sphere of sustainable plastics.

Another resin additive that can help reduce carbon footprints, Oshenite, produced by U.S. Aragonite, is a naturally occurring form of purified calcium carbonate that can be used for film and sheet extruding and thermoforming.

Recyclable Plastics

According to Freedonia’s study recycled packaging makes up almost 90 percent of sustainable green packaging in the United States. In fact, by 2014, the market will climb to $37.25 billion.

Many companies, including Uflex, are producing PET film made from at least 30 percent post-consumer waste recycled PET resin. The film, which has similar properties to conventional PET, has a serious drawback, however: A considerably higher price.

Although there are some examples of mono-web polyethylene recyclable packaging, laminated films remain a challenge. Recently, the American Chemistry Council created a new Flexible Film Recycling Group, whose focus will be to try to improve the recycling rate of plastic films, particularly laminates.

Furthermore, Kraft Foods and Nestlé have partnered with Enval, a British provider of recycling and environmental technology solutions. According to Enval, its patented technology will offer a genuine recycling route for flexible laminate packaging that to date have not been recyclable. According to Enval, the process opens the way for packaging systems such as pouches for drinks and pet food, aseptic drink cartons and laminates to be completely recycled. The technology is capable of handling material either as scrap from the production and filling processes or as post-consumer waste.

Fraudulent Sustainability Claims?

Demand for sustainable packaging is definitely out there. But, when faced with budgetary constraints and competitive pressures, some packaging companies blatantly mislead consumers with false claims. In fact, amid rumors of fake and undocumented sustainability claims by bioplastics processors, the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) announced its appointment of NSF International to administer Certified Compostable program in January.

According to David S. Brooks, BPI Certification program administrator, “There's so much pseudo-science out there, such as additives that are supposed to magically transform any plastic into a biodegradable material and ASTM standards used incorrectly that unless you have an independent organization verifying those tests, you can have unscrupulous people putting out products that aren't what they claim.”

With so many new materials entering the packaging market, it’s easy for a flexible packaging converter to be confused. Not to mention that consumers do not clearly understand the packaging end-of-life. Biodegradable, like recyclable, merely describe the composition of packages. Plastics, including most bioplastics do not degrade in landfills. If flexible packaging is sent to a landfill, and not disposed of properly in proper composting facility or recycle, it is still not sustainable, no matter what it is made of.

Many in the industry debate as to the merits of biodegradability versus recyclability. Proponents of each school of thought produce studies that support their claims. What is certain from a converter's standpoint is that coupled with the robust growth in global demand for flexible packaging, consumer preferences for sustainable materials, improved product performance, price parity with petroleum-based plastics, and the continued drive, bioplastics will continue to drive innovations in the realm of film, substrates, and flexible packaging in general well into the future.

CPG Drive for Innovation

Many consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies have been at the forefront of bioplastics development.

In December 2011, Coca-Cola invested millions of dollars in three bio-based companies in an effort to accelerate the development of a PlantBottle made entirely from plants. One of those companies Gevo, Inc. has developed a 100 percent renewable isobutanol, which is a building block for paraxylene. Using Gevo’s biobased paraxylene, Toray Industries, Inc. has succeeded in producing laboratory-scale samples of the world’s first fully renewable bio-based PET film and fiber. According to Toray, this bio-based PET has exhibited properties almost equivalent to petro-based PET in laboratory conditions.

In December 2011, Johnson & Johnson Brazil launched its Sundown line of sunscreen products in new packaging containing 60 percent bioplastic produced from sugarcane ethanol and 40 percent recycled material by Braskem a producer of bioplastics in Brazil with a 200,000-metric-ton-per-year capacity. In addition, Diageo and Sprint have followed other companies and released new sustainable packaging guidelines.

There is much demand for bio-based flexible packaging films, and it seems both industry research and company advances are responding to that demand.

Sixto Packaging
(305) 662-7144

Ceresana Research
+49 7531 942930

The Freedonia Group, Inc.
(440) 684-9600

Uflex Ltd.
+91 112 6440917

Cortec Corporation
(651) 429-1100

U.S. Aragonite
(410) 708-9010

American Chemistry Council
(202) 249-7000

+44 0845 2997566

Biodegradable Products Institute
(888) BPI-LOGO

NSF International
(800) NSF-MARK

Gevo, Inc.
(303) 858-8358

Toray Industries, Inc.
+81 3 3245-5179