Tuesday, April 9th, 2013
One ongoing, often heated, controversy is always simmering, and sometimes boiling over: Is using land for production of bioplastics feedstock at odds with the increasing demand for food associated with the growing global population? Conspicuously lacking has been good data showing how much of global agricultural land is needed for bioplastics—until now, that is.
The industry association European Bioplastics (Berlin, Germany), using numbers from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and calculations done by the Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites (IfBB, University of Hannover, Germany) yesterday published a brochure called “Bioplastics — facts and figures” aimed at moving the discussion to a factual level.
The first sentence of the association’s press release points out the key finding of the study: “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.” The earth’s total land area is about 13.4 billion hectares.
The study reports that 70 percent of the global agricultural area is pasture for animals. The remaining 30 percent is divided into land growing crops for food and animal feed (27%), land given over to crops for materials, including bioplastics (2%), and land growing crops for biofuels (1%).
European Plastics’ market data states there was 1.2 million metric tons of bioplastic production capacity in 2011, which translates to about 300,000 hectares of land used to grow the feedstock. That is 0.006 percent of the 5 billion hectares of our planet’s arable land. Looking forward, the association’s projection for bioplastics capacity in 2016 would require 1.1 million hectares for feedstock, or 0.022 percent of the globe’s arable land.
The association says that the percent of land used to make bioplastics is “…nowhere near being in competition with the 98 percent used for pastures and to grow food and feed.” European Bioplastics adds that increasing the efficiency of feedstock and agricultural technology will be key to assuring the balance between land for innovative bioplastics and land for food and feed.
The chart below illustrating the data is from the brochure.