The surface required to grow sufficient feedstock for today’s bioplastic production is less than 0.006 percent of the global agricultural area of 5 billion hectares. This is the key finding published by European Bioplastics (the association representing the interests of Europe’s bioplastics’ industry), based on figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and calculations of the Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites (IfBB, University Hannover, Germany).
In a world of fast growing population with an increasing demand for food and feed, the use of feedstock for non-food purposes is often debated controversially. The new brochure “ Bioplastics- facts and figures” published by European Bioplastics, moves the discussion on to a factual level.
Of the 13.4 billion hectares of global land surface, around 37 percent (5 billion hectares) are currently used for agriculture. This includes pastures (70 percent, approximately 3.5 billion hectares) and arable land (30 percent, approximately 1.4 billion hectare).
These 30 percent of arable land are further divided into areas predominantly used to grow crops for food and feed (27 percent, approximately 1.29 billion hectares), as well as crops for materials (2 percent, approximately 100 million hectares, including the share used for bioplastics), and crops for biofuels (1 percent, approximately 55 million hectares).
European Bioplastics market data depicts production capacities of around 1.2 million tonnes in 2011. This translates to approximately 300,000 hectares of land-use to grow feedstock for bioplastics. In relation to the global agricultural area of 5 billion hectares, bioplastics make use of only 0.006 percent.
“Metaphorically speaking, this ratio correlates to the size of an average cherry tomato placed next to the Eiffel Tower,” says the report.
However, European Bioplastics says bioplastic production capacities are growing faster outside Europe. In 2011, Europe accounted for 18.5 percent of global production but this is predicted to fall to 4.9 percent by 2016.
The association says the EU needs to implement more favourable framework conditions to attract investment and secure its place in the bioplastics market. Unlike in the U.S. or Thailand, where there are concrete initiatives to support bioplastics, there is only general support in Europe.