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Slow growth for new bioplastic inventions, new study claims

©. Jana Leberl on eXXpedition Round the World Leg 5.

“This revelation should act as a wake-up call for companies that sell products to retailers, consumers and their supply chain that more focus and investment is desperately needed.”

The number of new patents filed for bioplastic packaging are not accelerating at a fast rate, according to a new report by global analytics firm Clarivate.

Clarivate published its report today entitled ‘From our plastics present to a sustainable future’.

The company cited a survey from Ipsos which revealed that almost three quarters of global consumers want to see single-use plastic banned, and 63% are prepared to change where they shop if it meant using less packaging.  From a patented invention perspective however, it is not fast growing, Clarivate (@Clarivate) claimed.

In a statement, it said: “Patent volume increases in bioplastics packaging for food, beverage and cosmetics sectors of between 58% and 70% from 2012 to 2017 simply keep pace with overall patent volumes that similarly grew 70% over the same period, according to the Derwent World Patents Index(DWPI).

It added: “Indeed, these growth trajectories show that a focus on the highest consumer impact and sales volumes, and thereby the waste streams that end up in the environment, i.e. food, beverage and cosmetics, are below the baseline. Arguably, this means that real growth is not occurring at all.

“This revelation should act as a wake-up call for companies that sell products to retailers, consumers and their supply chain that more focus and investment is desperately needed. At the same time, it means that there is a significant opportunity. While it is true that individual ideas can disrupt or enable significant change in industries, it is very unlikely that a single invention, a single patented idea, would act as a ‘silver bullet’(a comprehensive solution) for all requirements of consumer products that may end up in the environment.”

However, the report maintained that out of our three sectors (food packaging, beverage packaging and cosmetics packaging), food packaging is the most active and is increasing most quickly. Almost 60% of biodegradable/compostable or bio-derived food packaging inventions have been filed since 2015, compared to almost 40% for cosmetics packaging.

It added: “If bioplastic packaging for fast-moving consumer products overall is not out-pacing general innovation trends, innovation focused on cosmetics uses is particularly poorly covered.

We found just 137 inventions globally, new filing rates of between 9 and 29 inventions per year and no sign of an uptick or acceleration in inventive output.”

From the Plastics Present to a Sustainable Future also revealed:

  • Only 7% of bioplastics packaging in food, beverage and cosmetics patent applicants hold 10 or more inventions.
  • The innovation profile is spread across the supply chain of packaging, from academia through to fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) firms performing and patenting research.
  • Durability of traditional petrochemical-based plastics means innovation in bioplastics packaging is focused on the material’s mechanical properties. 488 inventions cite mechanical strength as the motivation for the invention compared to 331 for biodegradable properties.

According to Clarivate, there is no shortage of exciting bioplastics innovations, including bioplastic containers made from rice starch with a high degree of thermal resistance and mechanical strength and edible bioplastic food wrappers made from corn and shellfish by-products. However, bioplastics is still a relatively small and nascent market; its global production of 2.11 million tons last year is just a fraction of the more than 359 million tons of plastic produced annually today. From a patent perspective, bioplastics packaging only constituted 0.02% of all patent output according to DWPI, compared with 5% for pharmaceuticals (not including bio-technology) in 2017. Factors such as bioplastics’ lack of mechanical strength compared to its petrochemical-based counterpart and the economics of production are holding back its growth and development.

From a commercial and trademarks perspective, biodegradable or recyclable plastics are not yet commercially attractive options, the study highlighted. They currently comprise just 8% of total plastics trademark applications filed at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). Until the economics of production for bioplastics improve, the adoption of bioplastics will continue to be slow.

“Our report reveals plastic is, and will continue to be, a part of our daily life. However, investments in the further development of bioplastics, re-think of traditional plastics design or responsible usage and disposal, will help reduce dependence on traditional plastics” said Jeff Roy, President, IP Group at Clarivate.

If you were interested in this bioplastic story, you may also be interested in the ones below.

Read: European Bioplastics slams EASAC report on bio-based materials

Read: European Green Deal: Bioplastics to play a crucial role in making the deal become reality.

Read: European Commission takes aim at ‘greenwashing’ in new circular economy action plan

Read: Bioeconomy policy monitor

Read: Bioplastics to ‘play key role’ in implementation of circular economy and EU environmental directives.

Read: USDA proposes new GM rule.

Read: USDA amends its guidelines for designating bio-based products.

Read: European Commission urges industry to do more to boost recycled plastics market.

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