About 10 million litres of beverages sold worldwide were packaged in compostable bottles last year according to a report from Zenith International.
The amount marks a 150 per cent gain over the previous year and represents a retail market value of €23m according to consultancy's drinks biopackaging report.
Over the past five years packaging suppliers have been introducing various forms of biodegradable plastics. These are made from a variety of plants, in the main corn, in response to projections that consumers and recycling regulations will drive demand for environmentally-friendly packaging.
Despite such strong growth, the low take up shows the global beverage industry has yet to embrace bioplastics, said Gary Roethenbaugh, the company's research director.
"Bioplastics, such as polylactic acid (PLA), have been readily incorporated into compost bags, catering products, supermarket shopping bags and increasingly food packaging," he said. "For beverage manufacturers, however, while the environmental virtues of compostable plastic bottles resonate well with consumers, a number of challenges remain."
Biopackaging presents an opportunity for increased sustainability and branding in the drinks industry, he said.
"Drinks that connect with nature, health and wellbeing are today's early adopters of biopackaging, such as smoothie operator Innocent and a range of bottled water producers like Belu in Europe and others in the US," said Roethenbaugh. "But recycled PET is also building momentum as a more sustainable alternative to regular PET. The beverage industry is at risk of falling behind other food applications for biopackaging unless there is more government support."
Biopackaging refers to plastics that break down so that no residue remains in the environment.
The Zenith report fond that more government and municipal programmes need to be designed to separate bioplastics from existing polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycling and waste management processes.
Separated bioplastic bottles then need to be integrated into large scale commercial composting facilities, the report stated.
"Reduced sales taxes on drinks biopackaging would also stimulate this essentially embryonic concept," the report stated. "Without government incentives for the use of bioplastic bottles, a major new product development opportunity is at risk of being squandered."
Nevertheless, companies continue to experiment with compostable packaging. Zenith projects that volumes will multiply fivefold in Western Europe and North America to 135 million litres by 2011.
With the development of improved infrastructure and economies of scale, the figure could be massively higher, the firm stated.