15. Jun 2016

New study examines consumption rates biodegradable and compostable plastic products in Europe

A new report entitled “Market study on the consumption of biodegradable and compostable plastic products in Europe 2015 and 2020”, published by Germany’s nova-Institute, provides an in-depth look at the types and volumes of biodegradable and compostable polymers used in Europe.

It not only contains detailed and up-to-date market data on polymer and product consumption by application and geography, it also identifies and quantifies the effects of positive and negative framework conditions on market development. It concludes with a description of the standards and test methods that are relevant for compostable and biodegradable polymer products, including the various certification and labelling schemes.
The study contains data on sales volumes and applications in Europe for the following plastics: PLA, (Co-)Polyesters (PBAT, PBS(X)), PLA copolyester compounds, starch-copolyester compounds, PHA and compostable cellophane films. It was found that PLA tends to be used in its pure form, while copolyesters are typically used in compounds. The analysis differentiates between EU producers and importers, covering all companies of relevant size and capacity.
According to the report, disposable, short-life products made of compostable polyester films and marketed as waste management solutions are today’s bestsellers. Compostable plastic bags, mainly used for shopping or biowaste collection, dominate the market for biodegradable plastic products, accounting for about two thirds of the total market of 100,000 t (error range 90,000 - 110,000 t) of biodegradable plastic products sold in 2015. 

Consumption biodegradable products report

Next to thin-walled bags, biobased PLA disposable tableware or packaging used for service and retail packaging goods are also sold in significant volumes, driven by big event caterers and very active internet-based distributors responding to convenience and street sale trends. 

PLA, notes the report, is used for a broad spectrum of applications, ranging from nonwoven fiber products or apparel, to beverage bottles and packaging foams. Starch-based materials are also pushing into new markets as, for example, coffee capsules or auxiliaries in aquaculture.
Functional products such as barrier packaging and various biodegradable outdoor uses are low volume today but have a significant potential for market breakthrough. They could also provide the increased health and safety-related benefits consumers are asking for in applications such as toys and other children’s goods.
The report projects that the total market today of 100,000 tonnes could easily grow to over 300,000 tonnes in 2020 – if the legal framework were to be set more favourably. An in-depth analysis of markets, along with policies and current legislation was carried out for Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries. The legal framework and composting infrastructure of EU member states were found to act either as the bottleneck or the key driver for market development. The correlation between framework conditions and market success is very high and also strongly affects future projections. Biodegradable plastic markets have become political markets to a larger extent – and this can now be quantified. A positive framework, such as in Italy or France, is a guarantee for market growth and investments; a negative setting, such as in Germany, puts successful developments at stake. The framework is still in the making in most EU Member States, and also on EU level. The report clearly paints the current status and the potential opportunities or threats, arising for example from “bagislation” and biowaste management frameworks.

Looking at the perspectives for growth through 2020, the study describes two different future scenarios for market development. In the “Business As Usual” scenario, known or expectable trends and impacts of framework conditions on the future market volume were examined. The projections include geographical regions and applications as well as polymer types. In a best case scenario, the projections assume a maximum positive setting of the political and legal framework (Policy Support Case – PSC) with incentives that positively affect sales: suitable and solid European standards for compostability and biodegradability and a more favourable legal framework as well as incentives applied to avoid non-biodegradable microplastics in the environment and to strengthen the Circular Economy.

These measures (in addition to all the functionality benefits) could drive biodegradable countriespolymer product demand to around 320,000 tonnes in Europe by 2020. This is based on an assumed annual growth rate of about 27% for the 5 years’ period. Such growth would generate many positive effects and benefits, i.e. new jobs and prosperous SMEs and start-ups in sectors such as innovative plastics, food service and biotechnology. Another positive effect can be expected in the form of better waste management.

The study is priced at € 3,500 and is available at bio-based.eu/top-downloads.

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