According to the 2022 bioplastics global market report, the bioplastics market expects a bright future. The recently unveiled report notes that the sector will eclipse $9.9 billion by 2027, citing increases in federal legislation supporting bioplastic adoption and growth.
These projections suggest a positive endpoint for bioplastics’ journey as a prevailing sustainability trend. In the past decade, these materials have risen as a “potential solution to address environmental and economic challenges,” with the capability to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 to 70 percent as a petroleum-based plastics alternative alone.
Moving forward, bioplastics stand to make a major impact on an increasingly eco-focused business sector, supplementing peripheral advancements in sustainability technology, federal policy, and ESG ideology.
What are Bioplastics?
As defined in the Elements of Polymer Science and Engineering, bioplastics are materials “made wholly or in part from renewable biomass sources such as sugarcane and corn, or from microbe such as yeast.” Some of these materials may be biodegradable or compostable — if made from renewable resources — and as a result, businesses can recycle them without the need for fossil fuels. In turn, this alternative approach is transforming historically non-sustainable industrial processes for the better.
In agriculture, for instance, bioplastics have helped farming institutions eliminate non-biodegradable waste, preserve soil nutrients and moisture, and broadly reduce negative environmental impact. These benefits continue to capture the attention of both commercial and independent agricultural producers, helping more farms commit to sustainability without sacrificing their production quality.
The horticulture industry, on the other hand, is embracing bioplastics as a replacement for longstanding, harmful industry norms — namely, petroleum-based plant containers. One assessment of horticultural bioplastics notes that petroleum containers, while effective in other regards, are ultimately not sustainable in their current widespread use. Instead, the assessment states: “One of the best ways to improve the sustainability of horticulture containers without
sacrificing effectiveness is to develop and commercialize containers made of bioplastics. Based on a holistic view of container horticulture, our ideal sustainable container is one that is made of bioplastics.”
Bioplastics also hold vast potential for food packaging, seeing increased use in several industry sectors for both short- and long-shelf-life products. In this sense, bioplastics can help food packaging entities reduce fossil-based plastic waste for a wider variety of items. A 2021 review of food packaging bioplastics underscores this fact, stating, “Bioplastics have considerable potential as replacements of fossil-based plastics in … food packaging. [They] are used as bottles to contain fruits, milk, and dairy products [and] are applied as films, trays/dishes, and containers to store food, such as fruit and vegetables, meats, fish, cheese, and eggs. Bioplastics can [also] be used as single-use plastic materials. For example, Evoware, which produces seaweed-based packaging had produced edible grade-food wraps, coffee sachets, and dry seasoning sachets.”
What Does the Future Hold?
Bioplastics currently represent an approximately 42-percent reduction in global carbon footprints, per the 2022 global report. This characteristic has helped bioplastics become the fastest-growing product line for all bio-based products. The worldwide bioplastics industry projects a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.7 percent between 2021 and 2027, and this bright outlook is a direct product of growing environmental awareness, increased manufacturer openness to bio-based plastic alternatives, and evolving federal regulations concerning natural resources use and waste management.
Adoption of bioplastics has been slow until recently — mainly due to corporate and consumer hesitancy toward progressive plastic alternatives and their perceived risks — and the aforementioned factors have accelerated its prominence in more industrial sectors. Now, bioplastics are finally reaching fruition in their intended purpose. The 2022 global report notes: “Biodegradable plastics account for their majority application in the world bioplastics market. Excellent growth is forecast for the leading biodegradable plastics such as polylactic acid (PLA).”
PLA, in particular, is expected to pace the bioplastics market en route to 2027, with rapid growth stemming from “advancements in compounding polymerization technology,” and PLA’s “relatively low cost compared to other bioplastics.”
Other notable contributing factors include biodegradable polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) and non-biodegradable Polytrimethylene Terephthalate (PTT) — both of which stand to lead industry advancements. The former, a likely driver of industry gains, is just entering the commercial market, while the latter should spur demand within industrial and residential carpeting, automotive upholstery, household furnishing, and textile manufacturing.
These trends make up a promising framework for bioplastics’ immediate future. In the coming years, bioplastics will likely become a new sustainability norm as more industry leaders embrace their range of benefits, fueling a much-needed cultural shift toward a greener, more waste-conscious world.