Demand for degradable plastic in the U.S. is forecast to expand nearly 17 percent yearly to 500 million pounds in 2010, valued at $610 million. Average prices will continue to decline as a result of higher capacity and greater production efficiencies, as well as price mixes reflecting fastest growth for the lowest priced resins. Myriad opportunities are anticipated based on a more competitive pricing structure, high feedstock costs for petroleum-based polymers, and growing environmental, governmental and consumer initiatives for greater use of sustainable resources. Degradable plastic applications are also being expanded by enhanced performance properties brought about by more sophisticated polymerization and blending techniques. These and other trends are presented in "Degradable Plastics," a new study from The Freedonia Group, Inc., a Cleveland-based industry market research firm.
Demand for biodegradable/compostable plastic is expected to increase nearly 20 percent annually to 420 million pounds. Polylactic acid (PLA) demand will present the best opportunities and rise over 30 percent annually through 2010. Advances reflect price declines, improved product performance and greater processor familiarity. Good opportunities are expected in packaging areas such as film, bottles and foodservice products. Rapid inroads are also expected in the rigid packaging of fruits, vegetables, eggs, yogurt, deli and bakery products. PLA bottle advances will be limited by the resin's inability to contain gaseous and temperature-sensitive products.
Starch-based plastic demand will grow nearly 18 percent per annum to 180 million pounds in 2010 due to the availability of lower priced and improved resin blends. Film products such as yard and kitchen bags will remain dominant. Rapid advances are also expected in areas such as plates, bowls and foodservice items. Slower growth is expected for degradable loose-fill packaging due to competition from bubble packaging and inflatable bags. Demand for polyester-based degradables will increase 24 percent annually through 2010 due to continued price declines and opportunities in film and fiber products. The materials also have good synergy in blends with PLA, starch and other materials. Polyhydroxyalkanoates and polycaprolactone are the leading polyester-based degradables. Opportunities are anticipated in yard bags, agricultural films and pallet wrap, as well as fibers for apparel, upholstery and nonwoven fabrics.