13 März 2006

Oil price hike plants seed for bioplastics growth

Consumer acceptance, film advancements drive sales in Europe: IBAW

President Bush may have made it a major point in his latest State of the Union address, but it’s really no secret that America is addicted to oil. For the converting field and its significant use of plastics, the impact of that oil ad-diction is clearly being felt. Whether you’re a filmmaker or plastic-pouch printer, the sharp rise in oil prices over the past year has everyone looking for new solutions.

One answer may be coming from Europe. According to studies by the Berlin-based Intl. Biodegradable Polymers Association & Working Groups (www.ibaw.org), a combination of the improved functionality of bioplastics and growing consumer acceptance of these materials (see chart) is driving more and more materials converters and their packaged-goods customers to make the switch away from oil-based plastics to renewable raw materials.

Some bioplastic products are already fully competitive, IBAW says. For example, price differences between renewable raw materials and standard plastics have decreased considerably in Europe, and the number of bioplastics manufacturers worldwide is rising. The increased competition will further drive market development, the trade group adds.

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Packaging, agriculture and the disposal sector are all hot markets for bioplastics. For converters, development efforts are focused on multilayer films with altered characteristics that may improve barrier properties. Estimates show that today’s bioplastics have a technological potential to command about 10 percent of the present European plastic market. “With the long development cycle for plastics that usually takes 20 to 30 years from invention to widespread application, we must look for alternatives in time,” says IBAW chairman Harald Kaeb.

Consumer research funded by IBAW reveals overall positive reactions to bioplastics and their use in packaging. Almost two-thirds of respondents said biodegradable packaging is well suited to organic foods, and 44 percent feel it’s applicable for conventional foods. A third of those surveyed would be ready to pay extra —for example, 5 cents more for a biodegradable yogurt cup than for a non-biodegradable one.

Examples of commercialized food-packaging bioplastics include higher demand for Okopack extruded-bioplastic netting from Netherlands-based NNZ BV (abaove top); and Biophan® clear-PLA produce films from Germany’s Treofan Group (above bottom).

According to Kaeb, other factors will also push bioplastics forward: They can be grown in countries that don’t have crude-oil resources; and they’re eco-friendly due to reduced CO2 emissions.

Source: Converting Magazine March 09, 2006.

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