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Politics / Markets A

Politics / Markets A bright future for bioplastics ? What are the barriers to developing bioplastics markets in Europe and how can we overcome them? TThe European bioplastics market is expanding rapidly. Between 2008 and 2013, it developed at an annual growth rate of 20%, reaching a market value of €485 million in 2013. This upward trend is expected to be maintained up to 2030 where even modest projections envisage European bioplastics demand to be between €5.2 and €6.7 billion. In the presence of the right incentives, however, these market figures could even be exceeded. Several recent policy developments have the potential to provide a significant impetus for the development of bioplastics in the EU, either through increasing interest and/ or boosting demand. Among these, recent proposals for EU waste targets [1] have put waste recycling and reuse at the very top of the policy and R&D agenda and the desire to reduce the risk of littering have prompted both the EU and several member states to propose taxes or bans on plastic bags [2, 3, 4]. The Court of Justice of the EU has even recently ruled against Greece for breaching EU landfill law and subsequently endangering the environment [5]. Some bioplastics (for example those made from PLA or PHA) can be composted alongside the biodegradable fraction of household waste in industrial composting facilities. Methods to recycle PLA are currently being developed. Other bioplastics such as bio PE and PET are chemically identical to their fossil fuel-based equivalents, and thus can be recycled in the same manner and in the same waste stream. Bioplastics therefore comply with the Commission’s recently published circular economy package [6] which sets down re-use and recycling as the norm and aims to keep materials in productive use for as long as possible. Whether derived from shrimp shells [7], wastewater [8] or tomato skins and peels [9], bioplastics can find applications in many sectors including packaging, sanitary products, agriculture, automotive and consumer goods. Specialty polymers and packaging applications are considered to have the greatest potential for future growth. Market drivers for biobased plastics include rising and increasingly volatile fossil oil prices, the potential for reduction of CO 2 emissions up to material carbon neutrality, an efficient use of resources, and their potential contribution to EU waste targets. In addition, more and more consumers are starting to show positive attitudes towards biobased and biodegradable materials. However, it is difficult to assess whether end user demand influences consumer brands, or whether consumer companies want to use bioplastics due to CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) practices. Whatever the reasons, it is expected that the bioplastics market will bloom through to 2030 and even beyond. Breaking through the barriers to bioplastics in Europe So how do we ensure this ambitious goal is reached, and even exceeded? The following considerations are built upon the findings of the FP7 [10] funded BIO-TIC project which focuses more specifically on PLA and PHA. PHA beach toys (Zoë B / Metabolix) The most frequently cited barriers to the uptake of biobased AND biodegradable plastics revolve around their cost-competitiveness and performance. The process of becoming economically viable can be relatively long and complex – this is why, for instance, new polymers such as PLA that have been developed as long ago as the 1940’s and 1950’s are only expected to see significant market penetration in the coming years. However, it is thought that within an appropriate framework, commercial-scale production could be fostered while simultaneously enabling economies of scale. It has been suggested that in order to overcome the 48 bioplastics MAGAZINE [04/14] Vol. 9

Politics / Markets By: Claire Gray BIO-TIC Project Coordinator PLA-Computer housing (Supla/Kuender) and Ioana Popescu Industrial Biotechnology Officer EuropaBIO, Brussels, Belgium cost-competitiveness barrier, temporary market creation through governmental support would be most helpful to the bioplastics industry. Such solutions imply, for example, ensuring a favorable environment for the development of biobased plastics in terms of investment incentives, selective tax exemptions, or the implementation of a public procurement program building on the bio preferred program in the US. Indeed, the outcome of the EU Lead Market Initiative (LMI) for biobased products has already outlined a series of recommendations to help stimulate markets for products made from renewable raw materials. Overall it is considered that positive regulation rather than bans and other prohibitory measures would provide the most effective method of engaging with consumers. These policies should consequently include players across the whole value chain, i.e. plastic converters, retail, brand owners and manufacturers. Nevertheless, until then, brand owners have the power to facilitate early stage access to markets for bioplastics that are not yet entirely cost-competitive by integrating them in their production chains and temporarily absorbing the price difference (e.g. Coca Cola and their PlantBottle). The second biggest problem hampering the large-scale development of biobased plastics in the EU are perceived inferior properties and/or performance when compared to fossil-based alternatives. Consumer and end-user awareness of the benefits of bioplastics is crucial in ensuring the positive environment required for the uptake of biobased plastics and will facilitate the implementation of dedicated policies and technology fine-tuning. Dedicated communication activities should subsequently be implemented as soon as possible to build support for and appreciation of the unique features of biobased plastics and to facilitate their large-scale market uptake. Bioplastics have a bright future in Europe. Not only will they help free us from our dependence upon fossil oil, but, by virtue of their biodegradability and/or their recyclability, they will help pave the way towards a circular economy. The full benefits of bioplastics will however only be realised with measures to improve their cost-competitiveness and a concerted effort to address end user and consumer perception and awareness issues. References [1] Proposal for a DIRECTIVE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL amending Directives 2008/98/EC on waste, 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste, 1999/31/ EC on the landfill of waste, 2000/53/EC on end-of-life vehicles, 2006/66/EC on batteries and accumulators and waste batteries and accumulators, and 2012/19/EU on waste electrical and electronic equipment (2014) [2] Le Goff F., Portugal plans environmental tax reform, ENDS Europe [3] Bulleid R., Council could back plastic bag reduction target, ENDS Europe [4] Le Goff F., France to ban single-use plastic bags from 2016, ENDS Europe [5] Court of Justice of the European Union, PRESS RELEASE No 104/14, C-600/12 Commission v Greece [6] Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, The Council, The European Economic and Social Committee and The Committee of the Regions, Towards a circular economy: A zero waste programme for Europe (2014) [7] Thielen M., Bioplastic from shrimp shell, Bioplastics Magazine, vol.9, n°3, p.31 [8] Johnson R., Prague, available at 40774-pilot-project-turns-wastewater-to-bioplastic. [9] European bioplastics News bulletin 03/2014, available at [10] 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (European Commission) Conference on this Topic: The BIO-TIC project consortium is organizing a workshop entitled ‘Biobased Plastics - How do we Grow the EU Industry?’ which will take place on 1st December 2014 between 1pm and 6pm at the Square, Brussels. Further information on the workshop can be found at The workshop is a satellite event to the 9th European Bioplastics Conference: Driving a Resource Efficient Europe’ on the 2nd and 3rd December 2014. For more information visit: Further information: This article has been based on the interim findings of the FP7 project BIO-TIC which aims to identify the hurdles to industrial biotechnology (IB) and develop solutions to overcome them in order to unlock the potential of this key enabling technology (KET) in Europe. Bioplastics are one of five product groups which have been identified to have significant potential for enhancing European economic competitiveness and introducing cross-cutting technology ideas. Any feedback is welcomed and should be sent to bio-tic@europabio. org. A summary of the draft findings on bioplastics, upon which this article is based, can be downloaded at bioplastics MAGAZINE [04/14] Vol. 9 49

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