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13 Nov 2008

Industry

Opportunity and Potential for the Development of Thailand’s Bioplastic Industry (Current Issue No.2116)

Using petrochemical-based plastic products has given rise to problems of proper disposal of related waste as treatment processes are typically detrimental to the environment. With greater production of plastic products globally and attempts by many countries to erect non-tariff barriers to ban some plastic imports, the role of biodegradable plastics (bioplastics) has gained importance. Bioplastics are derived from processing the fibrous material of such plants as cassava, corn, sugar cane, etc., and can degrade to safe particulates under natural environmental conditions when left as unprocessed waste, or disintegrate even quicker when they are buried in landfills. Bioplastics are also exportable to countries that have strict environmental standards.
At present, most developed countries are leaders in the production and consumption of bioplastics. Bioplastics are growing rapidly in commercial use in the EU. The European Bioplastics Association forecasts that the market for bioplastics will continue to grow at better than 20 percent per annum[1]. However, bioplastics are costlier than petrochemical-based plastics due to high production costs, resulting from the need to achieve certain economies of scale for cost-effective production.
The Thai bioplastic industry is still in its formative stages because we are unable to produce bioplastic pellets due to technological and workforce experience constraints. Nevertheless, our strengths lie in the plenitude of farm produce, particularly cassava, which is a primary constituent to bioplastic production. Thailand has farming expertise and cassava prices here are comparatively cheap relative to other types of farm produce. Our plastic molding business, a downstream industry, also shows high potential. In addition, many leading bioplastic producing and consuming countries face problems of inadequate domestic production, so they have to procure it elsewhere.

Based on those strengths and weaknesses, KASIKORN RESEARCH CENTER (KResearch) views that Thailand still lacks adequate technological expertise in bioplastic pellet production, so relevant agencies should offer support, perhaps by seeking international cooperation from the leading bioplastic producers that might allow technology transfer. The government might also publicize the benefits of biodegradable plastics to society. That could help expand the market for this product category, which would then lead to sufficient demand to achieve the needed economies of scale. In addition, a strong production base would build export competitiveness.



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