17 Juli 2007

Bioplastics gaining ground in food packaging

Food packaging is beginning to move away from materials such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET) toward biodegradable materials due to an increase in consumers’ environmental concerns, and as large retailers pressure food manufacturers to packaging goods in “green” materials. Regulatory pressure in the EU to cut down on packaging waste is also pushing demand.

In recent years suppliers have been producting biodegradable materials such as polylactic acid (PLA), a starch derivative made from corn and other high-starch plants, and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), using sugars, plant oils and bio-waste. The key factors driving development of the biodegradable packaging market include an increase in crude oil prices, which has narrowed the price differential, rise of convenience packaging, development of new applications for bioplastics and the increased economic viability as production ramps up and unit costs decrease along with development of a composting infrastructure for the optimal disposal of bioplastic products.

In the EU, bioplastics accounted for about 0.14% of Western Europe’s total thermoplastics consumption in 2005. And the EU accounts for 59% of the global polymer market, as compared to North America at 22% and Asia at 19%. Currently, packaging accounts for 39% of the overall biodegradable polymer market, with food packaging only a small fraction of that.

Despite the potential of biodegradable packaging materials, significant barriers to growth remain and the segment remains a niche market. Such materials account about 1-2% of the food packaging segment, which makes up about 40% of the US$460 billion global packaging industry.

(Cf. news of 2007-05-26, 2006-11-22 and 2006-12-11.)

Source: plastemart.com, 207-07-14.

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