Bioplastics Innovations Lagging Behind Public Sentiment for Sustainable Plastics Alternatives, Says New Clarivate Report

Clarivate Analytics Plc, a global leader in providing trusted insights and analytics to accelerate the pace of innovation, has released a new report unveiling the bioplastics1 innovation landscape. Some of the key findings in the report include how bioplastics packaging is at an early developmental stage with no dominant company or entity. 40%2 of all inventions are held by organizational applicants with just a single invention and less than a tenth hold 10 or more inventions.

Download the full report: 'From the Plastics Present to a Sustainable Future'.

With growing consumer, governmental and organizational awareness of the need to radically change our approach to plastic usage and disposal, bioplastic has emerged as one of the potential solutions to a more sustainable future. Biodegradable and compostable packaging is a key issue for consumers and regulators. A recent survey3 revealed 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. 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).

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 properties4.

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 byproducts5. 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 today6. 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. 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)7. 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. "At Clarivate, we operate at the heart of the innovation lifecycle and deliver vital information and insights to organizations that are seeking alternative solutions to the world's most complex problems, such as plastic waste. With our industry leading solutions, organizations can continue to bring life-changing and environment-saving plastics innovations to market, faster."