Biomaterials and bioplastics boom in global packaging 

Bioplastics soared 24% YoY to 2.2 million tonnes in 2022 and is set to hit 6.3 million tonnes by 2027, Kathryn Wortley reports. 

Bioplastics are an alternative group of materials that are partly or entirely produced from renewable sources. Credit: Manuel Milan via Shutterstock

Packaging firms and brands are preparing for a boom in biomaterial packaging, fuelled by greater consumer demand, regulations to increase sustainability and the maturity of biomaterials.  

A report by Massachusetts, US-based management consulting firm Arthur D Little, released in 2022, said that investment has fuelled production improvements and capacity, easing the mass production of biomaterials derived from plants, animals or bacteria.   

Fortunately for the packaging sector, novel biomaterial research has focused on bioplastics, which are of increasing value as packaging firms face increased sustainability requirements from regulation and market demand from concerned consumers.   

Global bioplastics production totalled 2.2 million tonnes in 2022, up by 24% year-on-year, and is expected to reach 6.3 million tonnes in 2027, according to data from the European Bioplastics Association.  

The value of that market is expected to increase to USD63.6 billion by 2032, up from USD12.4 billion in 2022, a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 17.8% over the period, according to Canada- and India-based market insight company Precedence Research.  

With bio-based polymers made from virgin polymers and renewable or recycled raw materials food and beverage packaging is “ripe for sustainable disruption,” said Ohio, US-based packaging manufacturer Ranpak in a company blog, pointing to its RecyCold cool packs featuring a bio-based, 100% biodegradable gel inside a polyethylene coating.    

 Precedence Research estimates that bioplastic has the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30–70% compared to plastic.   

Bioplastics for sustainable packaging and pollution reduction 

And bioplastics will help achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). A note from Malaysia tech organisation Gaia Greentech stressed that the UN SDG12 highlights that by “decreasing the production and consumption of conventional plastics, and adapting sustainable bio-based plastic alternatives is a way to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”.  

This is unsurprising given total worldwide consumption of plastic of all kinds is 158.9 million tonnes per year, according to a 2023 report 'Plastic Overshoot Day' published by Switzerland-based Environmental Action.  

It also warned that 43% of current global plastic waste will be mismanaged by the end of its life, causing at least 68.6 million additional tonnes of plastic to be dumped in the natural environment.  

The result has been an intensification of efforts to tackle plastic pollution, particularly in packaging. A 2022 survey of decision-makers in user industries and packaging supply companies by ALL4PACK Emballage Paris, a flagship event for the packaging and logistics sectors hosted in Paris, France, 88% of respondents described using more environmentally-friendly packaging as a priority.  

The main reasons given (multiple answers possible) were consumer expectations (69%), benefits for brand image (56%) and changes in legislation (49%). Some 37% of respondents said they wanted to start using biomaterials in the coming two years while 46% said they wanted to use more paper and cardboard.   

These sentiments have expanded production of bioplastics and related materials worldwide. For example, in 2024, the Japan-based Kaneka Corporation will increase its annual production capacity of its Green Planet line of biomaterials, from 5,000 tonnes to 20,000 tonnes, company spokesperson Chika Harada told Packaging Gateway.  

Green Planet is a biopolymer produced by microorganism bio-fermentation using plant oils as a primary raw material, allowing it to biodegrade in soil and seawater.  

The material is used to create shopping bags for Japan Airlines-owned JALUX, which operates airport shop brand Blue Sky, and cosmetic containers for Tokyo-headquartered Shiseido Company.  

Kaneka also plans to use this technology to make agricultural seedling pots and snack bags.     

Growth of mycelium packaging: eco-innovation and sustainability 

Another area of growth in the packaging sector is in mycelium, the root-like structure of mushrooms, which is biodegradable and compostable.  

The mycelium packaging market alone is projected to grow from a value of USD74 million in 2023 to USD187 million by 2033, equating to a CAGR of 9.7%, according to a May 2023 report by Pune, Maharashtra, India-based market research company Future Market Insights.  

UK-based wellness brand Hæckels uses company-grown mycelium boxes for the outer packaging of some of its products, while French sustainable candle brand Amen uses packaging made from mycelium and agricultural waste.  

Meanwhile, Staffordshire, UK-based Woolcool uses 100% wool as the insulating material for its packaging of temperature-sensitive food, such as chocolate and pharmaceutical goods that require fluctuating profiles of 2C–8C or 15C–25C. 

“In comparison to conventional manmade insulators like polystyrene, wool’s performance is so good it can mean you need fewer ice packs and gel packs to regulate your parcel’s temperature,” said Josie Morris MBE, managing director of Woolcool, in a company blog.  

The wool insulation is certified compostable and biodegradable, even releasing valuable nitrates into the soil.   

Such innovation can be expensive, with higher costs compared to traditional packaging and this - noted UK-based packaging solutions provider Skymark Packaging International in a December 2022 analysis – can slow the growth of bio-packaging.  

One way to overcome this issue, continued the company, is to consider “life cycle analysis, a tool used to assess the environmental impacts of a product or system throughout its entire lifecycle, from raw material extraction to disposal”.   

And that might encourage sales of brands that use biomaterials, helping consumers send a message throughout the life cycle chain that this form of packaging is a necessity, combating climate change, according to the report from consulting firm Arthur D Little.