A new ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags and food service items is creating an unprecedented surge for bioplastics manufacturing in China. Unlike China’s nationwide plastic bag ban, which has been widely recognized as ineffectively enforced since its launch in June 2008, Jilin province’s new ban so far seems to be in full force and making real impact in the region.
The ban just took effect 1 January, but the government had announced the law as early as February 2014 and has made solid progress in leveraging the ban to foster bioplastics manufacturing in that region.
Jilin, in northeast China, is the nation’s largest production base for corn and corn derivatives. Naturally the government decided to promote a corn-based bioplastic — polylactic acid resin — as the alternative to the conventional plastics for making bags and food service items that have been prohibited.
Local officials claim the region has ramped up enough bio-based production capacity to fulfill the need created by the ban of conventional bags and food service ware.
In an industrial park dedicated to bio-based materials, about a dozen companies either have started production of PLA products or are in the process of launching production, according to local media reports.
Processors are churning out compostable bags and food containers and food service ware, including Becausewecare Environment Industry and Hisun Biomaterials.
Biodegradable bag maker Jilin Yitian Biotec currently runs two production lines 24/7 with combined annual capacity of 907 tonnes. To meet overwhelming market demand, the company plans to double its capacity by the end of this month and to expand to 2,700 tonnes by June, according to a report from Chinajilin.com.cn.
On the upstream side, a PLA resin facility by state-owned China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corp. and a lactic acid project by Changchun Dacheng Industrial Group are expected to produce bioresin locally.
The world’s largest PLA maker, NatureWorks, also approached Jilin province for possible business opportunities, according to Jilin Daily. NatureWorks, however, declined EPN's sister publication Plastics News’ request for a comment.
BASF (China) told Plastics News that the Jilin ban actually targets plastics products that are not certified compostable.
The chemical giant is supplying its certified compostable and biodegradable Ecoflex PBAT (polybutyrate adipate terephthalate) to processors in Jilin. The tear-resistant, puncture resistant, waterproof, printable and elastic material is used in the production of biodegradable bags to improve mechanical properties.
BASF also supplies Ecovio, a compound of Ecoflex and PLA that’s also certified compostable and biodegradable polyester, for the manufacturing of compostable packaging such as organic waste bags.
BASF is helping local partners in Jilin with organic waste collection projects, drawing from its expertise in such projects in other places in China as well as globally.
Depending on market developments, BASF would consider localizing production of Ecoflex in China to further increase price-competitiveness, the company spokeswoman said.
Domestic Chinese suppliers of PBAT have been expanding, with Shanxi Jinhui Energy Group announcing a 18,000 tonne factory in April 2014. Chinese media reports shows that Jinhui is establishing an entity in Jilin.
Also an important player in the bioplastics industry, Kingfa Science & Technology, said Jilin’s ban is effectively creating market demand and fostering the bioplastics industry. Kingfa looks to participate with its PBSA bioresin, Kin Wong, sales general manager of Kingfa’s Ecopond bioplastics business, told Plastics News.
Deemed as a “lighthouse”, Jilin’s current move is “an important test for sustainable solutions in China and may have the potential to foster the bioplastics industries development in China,” BASF’s Shen added.
Jilin’s vision for its bioplastics industry goes beyond bags and foodservice ware to include future targets in packaging, fiber, consumer products, as well as the auto and medical industries.
A government official told the Jilin Daily that Changchun, as one of the first four cities in China as testing grounds for biomaterials, is expected to receive funding from the central government in the next three years.