The prevalence of compostable bottles in the global soft drinks market rose last year, albeit from a very small base.

In a report looking at drinks biopackaging, consultancy company Zenith International said today (18 July) that the global market for drinks packaged in compostable bottles leapt by 150% in 2006, reaching 10m litres in volume terms and EUR23m in retail market value.

Despite such strong growth, Zenith noted, the low take-up shows the global beverage industry has yet to embrace bioplastics, meaning plastics that break down so that no residue remains in the environment.

"Bioplastics, such as polylactic acid (PLA), have been readily incorporated into compost bags, catering products, supermarket shopping bags and increasingly food packaging," said Zenith research director Gary Roethenbaugh. "For beverage manufacturers, however, while the environmental virtues of compostable plastic bottles resonate well with consumers, a number of challenges remain."

While biopackaging presents a genuine opportunity for increased sustainability in drinks packaging, the report highlighted that Government and municipal programmes are required to separate bioplastics from existing PET recycling and waste management processes. Without government incentives for the use of bioplastic bottles, meanwhile, a major new product development opportunity is at risk of being squandered the consultancy warned.

Looking forward, continued experimentation with compostable packaging is projected to multiply volumes fivefold in West Europe and North America to 135m litres by 2011, Zenith said. Increased government support and the development of improved infrastructure and economies of scale could see this figure rise even higher.