Demand for plastics that decompose into environmentally benign components will grow by as much as $100 million a year through 2023, according to a study by IHS Markit, a market analysis firm headquartered in London.
Most plastics are petroleum-based and are virtually indestructible, languishing in dumps, roadside ditches, in oceans, and elsewhere for thousands of years when left on their own. Biodegradable plastics are mostly made of starch and can dissolve in municipal landfills. Some eventually disappear in backyard compost piles, buried in the ground, or even in seawater.
The rising demand is coming mainly from two sources: the food industry, which relies heavily on plastics for packaging and for disposable cups, straws and cutlery in retail food outlets, and plastic bag makers. The US alone uses more than a billion plastic bags each year. It’s estimated that less than 1% of plastic bags are ever recycled. The rest wind up in landfills, on streets, in the sea, or flapping in the wind.
Other potential users of biodegradable plastics include the medical industry, which is beginning to use biodegradable bandages and suture threads; agriculture, which can use degradable plastics for mulch; and makers of packing peanuts and other box-stuffers.
Western Europe’s increasingly strict regulations about single-use petrol-plastics, as well as its need to use scarce open spaces for people instead of dumps are driving interest and model projects. Asia, Australia, and the US are following this trend.
Companies potentially benefiting from this market’s growth include NatureWorks, Novamont, and PTT MCC Biochem, as well as smaller manufacturers such as Crown Poly.
Biodegradable plastics make economic and environmental sense. They reduce landfill use and the attendant costs. They play on the destructive throwaway use of costly petroleum-based plastics. A combination of regulation, growing consumer awareness, and changing investor / market behaviors will cause shoppers to seek out products using these innovative plastics.