Expanding Use of Bioplastics Poses End-of-Life Challenges

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The global bio-based plastics industry is expanding thanks to wider product ranges and improved product performance, but faces challenges from lack of funds for projects and sparse recycling infrastructure, according to a new report.

Frost & Sullivan’s Global Bio-based Plastics Market also notes that many bioplastics companies are now transitioning from laboratory and pilot production to commercialization of products. More diverse product ranges are also allowing companies to expand bioplastic into new uses.

In 2008, the bioplastic market earned €570.6 million in revenue, a figure Frost & Sullivan expects to grow to €1.1 billion in 2015.

One new area that bioplastics are expanding into is high performance engineering plastics, due to improved production and additives, the report notes. That development has helped create bioplastic alternatives for automotive and electronic uses, on top of packaging, which has been the dominant bioplastic use.

The report notes that the main short-term challenge companies will face is finding funding for project expansions due to the worldwide economic downturn, and the major long-term challenge will be to improve the end-of-life infrastructure for bioplastics.

If bioplastics are put into the recycling stream and get mixed in with conventional plastic, they will contaminate the recycled material. In facilities where machines are able to identify bioplastics as different from other plastics, they end up going in the trash stream, and the low volume of bioplastics in use does not provide other recyclers much incentive to invest in new technologies for identifying and separating bioplastics.

Another end-of-life solution for bioplastics is composting – typically in industrial settings – but again, the infrastructure for industrial composting worldwide is slim. A third solution the report touches on is incineration, which would also need new infrastructure set up.

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