I have been watching the bioplastics and biopolymers market with great interest last few years. And I am sure I am not alone.
Plastics has been the favourite whipping-boy of every environmentalist and tree-hugger. But dig a bit deeper, and you will see that plastics (or something that can substitute plastics ) are indeed a necessity for a large part of our modern lives. Necessary evil perhaps, but necessary all the same.
So, ignoring the tree-hugger’s shrill cries for the moment to ban plastic all together, the more realistic question is whether we could replace it with more benign but equally effective materials.
And this is where bioplastics and biopolymers come in. These are plastics & polymers made from renewable sources, typically plant-based feedstock.
Biopolymers represent the general category of polymers made from natural sources, with bioplastics being a (large) subset of this. Some familiar nonplastic polymers include starches (polymers of sugars), proteins (polymers of amino acids) and DNA (polymers of nucleotides — see How DNA Works).
As you will agree, what is interesting for us is bioplastics, in specific, and so for the rest of the post, I will not disappoint you and stick to bioplastics.
The two significant benefits that bioplastics bring forth are:
1. They do not carry any toxins that synthetic plastics carry (see more on the toxins in plastics from this post)
2. Some of the bioplastics are biodegradable – they quickly (within 2 months) disintegrate into CO2, water and starch, whereas synthetic plastics could take 100+ years (sometimes, even 500+ years) to disintegrate.
Point 1 (no toxins) is applicable to almost all bioplastics; Point 2 is not applicable to all bioplastics – that is, some bioplastics are not biodegradable. Why some bioplastics are not biodegradable is a detailed story, for some other post some other day.
It is quickly clear that the biodegrable bioplastics represent the most significant benefits, and hence could make a significant difference to environmental sustainability.
Let’s then focus mainly on biodegradable plastics. When you consider this segment, it doesn’t take genius to figure out that if these are able to affordably perform the function that their synthetic counterparts perform, we will be witness to a business revolution.
From what I have read and understood, this day might not be far away – when biodegradable plastics will be able to replace almost all the functions of conventional plastics.
This should be great news to entrepreneurs looking at getting into a potentially humongous market early.
The total plastics and polymer market is worth over $1 trillion in annual sales, so even a small percentage converting to the bio alternative will mean global potential of tens of billions. Conservative estimates indicate that the market for bioplastics will represent only about 3% by 2020, even then it is a $30+ billion industry by then. But industry research always has a tendency to underestimate the potential for disruptive ideas, do please keep that in mind.
While most of the initial market opportunities for bioplastics will start in the developed countries, opportunities will be present in India as well. These opportunities are present across a variety of industrial sectors that include packaging, water, beverages, insulation materials, specialty materials and more.
Owing to the importance of this sector, EAI has adopted this as one of the segments where its specialty consulting division will assist entrepreneurs to understand the bioplastics market and take next steps. To know more on how EAI can assist you in exploring the bioplastics and biopolymers sector, have a look at this page.