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Bio-based (and not bioplastic) packaging alternatives

Notes by Narsi

The 2010-2020 decade for bioplastics was pretty forgettable.

Even though the sector gained significant mindshare, it was hardly translating to marketshare.

Even as of 2022, the total proportion of bioplastics in the overall global plastics market is only around 1%.

In fact, last I checked, some of the key sectors such as the biodegradable bioplastics segments have shown hardly any growth since 2020 - and this is globally, not just in India. While COVID could be part of the reason, the growth was not spectacular even prior to COVID.

The challenges to growth are more fundamental - performance and economics, with the latter being the dominant challenge.

Bioplastics still cost around 3X their petro equivalents, a No-no for a country like India. Sure, the costs will eventually come down, but even if it achieves parity, bioplastics that are derived through polymerization will still be highly energy intensive, and I'm not sure how well products from bioplastics such s PLA will perform on heat & water resistance capabilities.

What is my point?

My point is that, bio-based plastics does not meaan bioplastics alone. Bio-alternatives to plastics can also take the pulping route (something well known to our paper industry) in which the biomass is made into pulp and moulded into the desired product. A range of packaging and cutlery products are possible from this route. The cost of this bio-based alternative is quite comparable to that for equivalent petro plastics products being used today. These can even be done at a fairly distributed level, thus opening the doors for rural and semi urban employment. And these are of course 100% biodegradable - they are just biomass.

There are many startups in this domain, and most of them are small. For some reason, they have not yet caught the fancy of the investing community. It could be that scalability is in question, as some of them are run by folks who perhaps are not configured to run scaled enterprises. But I feel the investing community - at least the impact investing community - should take a long, hard look at this segment

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