Conventional plastics produced from oil may begin to lose market share to once-niche bioplastics as consumer preferences lean toward natural products and renewable technologies gain technical maturity and economy of scale.
European Bioplastics Association says the use of bioplastics made from sugarcane, wood and corn will grow at least 50% in the next five years. The agency also notes that interest for renewable materials from megabrands like Coca-Cola and Lego have spurred chemical giants like BASF to accelerate their development plans from lab to real-world.
Wood Mackenzie’s Pieterjan Van Uytvanck agrees. “Biochemicals and bioplastics could erode a portion of oil demand, much like recycling can erode overall virgin plastics demand. It will become a larger portion of the supply.”
Strong bioplastics growth comes from a miniscule base, however. The category makes up just 1% of the global plastics industry, and oil and chemical majors show no signs of slowing down their investments in to meet the needs of rapid population growth. But bioplastics can’t be discounted either, particularly as alternatives emerge and become available at larger scale.
“Attitudes are evolving,” says David Eyton, the head of technology at BP. “The question that faces the petrochemicals industry that has yet to really be answered is, ‘How are people going to deal with some of the environmental impacts of petrochemicals? Particularly plastics, which are a growing concern.’”