Could a Sustainable Bio-Based Plastics Supply Chain Become a Commercial Reality?

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2023-04-28

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Abstract

The objective of this research is to examine the feasibility of scaling the bio-based plastics industry in a sustainable manner and to evaluate the commercial viability of its supply chain. Bio-based plastics present a viable alternative to the use of fossil fuels in conventional plastics by creating innovative plastics from renewable resources that have the potential to be compostable and emit less carbon dioxide than petroleum-based plastics. Nevertheless, the use of bio-based plastics presents certain obstacles, such as competition with food production, limited consumer awareness, and obstacles to achieving cost competitiveness with conventional plastics.

The report analyzes the current state of the bio-based plastics sector, identifies key challenges and opportunities, and presents recommendations for sustainably scaling the industry. As of 2021, the bio-based plastic market is valued at $11.2B USD and is expected to grow at a rate of 17.02% per year, reaching $46.1B USD by 2030 (Precedence Research). To identify opportunities for meeting this level of growth sustainably, the Master’s Project team conducted semi-structured interviews with stakeholders in the bio-based plastics industry and conducted desk research. The original scope of research was to determine how waste-based feedstocks for bio-based plastics are defined, however, based on feedback from interviewees, the Master’s Project team pivoted due to limited demand for waste-based solutions. The team adopted a more holistic approach to understand the market by analyzing different feedstock sources and end-of-life (EOL) options for bio-based plastics, as well as the role of the government and certification services to develop a sustainable, competitive alternative to the plastics industry.

Based on the report’s findings, a commercially viable and sustainable supply chain for bio-based plastic can be feasible. The report drew on desk-based research and interviews with ten stakeholders in the bio-based plastics sector including producers, buyers, certification services, and non-governmental organizations. As a result, five key areas were identified that stakeholders in the bio-based plastic value chain should consider to enhance the industry’s sustainability. These areas include: 1) Design with EOL in mind, 2) Create partnerships with stakeholders across the bio-based materials value chain, 3) Urge for a global standardized labeling process, 4) Consider bio-based plastic terminology and use of EOL terms carefully for better consumer education, and 5) Confirm how feedstock is sourced with suppliers.

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Barnett, Patrice, Reino Hyyppa, Grace Reynolds and Kelsie Roberton (2023). Could a Sustainable Bio-Based Plastics Supply Chain Become a Commercial Reality?. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/27185.


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