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The ambitious Green Deal of the new European Commission aims at a cleaner, circular future for Europe. What contribution can the biobased industry make to achieve this? How can the regions be better involved? And how will we deal with biowaste in Europe in the future?
Pierre Gielen

The Bio-Based Industries Consortium has recently conducted research into these topics and presented the first outcomes at a well-attended conference for BIC members and EU & national policymakers on 12 February in Brussels.

Growth strategy

The transformation of production and consumption in Europe is central to the Green Deal of the Von der Leyen Commission. Europe needs to become circular and climate neutral and thus a shining example for the rest of the world. It requires a mega-operation, a moonshot-like program with a size of € 1 trillion, paid partly by the industry.

Linked to this are a new growth strategy and a climate law that must guarantee that economic growth is not equivalent to a growing use of raw materials. Circularity is therefore the keyword. It must ensure the preservation and restoration of the ecosystem and biodiversity, a healthy and sustainable food system and a fair distribution of wealth across the regions. In this respect, the Green Deal fits in well with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Opportunities for biobased

Maya Doneva, Managing Director at FTI Consulting provided an overview of the EU’s Green Deal and its implications for the bio-based sector, while Catherine Bowyer, Senior Policy Analyst at the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) discussed the joint study between BIC and IEEP into the contribution that the biobased industry can make to the SDGs.

Doneva highlighted the opportunities for the biobased sectors in the field of (biodegradable) biobased plastics, materials and textiles, sustainable agriculture that stimulates the consumption of vegetable proteins and is less dependent on fertilizer and pesticides, the production of biofuels and better accessibility of financing for scaling up and marketing innovations. The new Horizon Europe research and innovation framework program (successor to Horizon 2020) must make an important contribution to this.

During her invention, Bowyer added: “Reliable methods must be developed to assess both the positive and negative consequences of future projects for achieving the SDGs.” The minimum requirement for new projects is that they do no harm. “However, no harm does not mean business as usual, the principle is still that companies make a positive contribution to sustainability objectives.” It is a condition for granting investments and subsidies that are effective. This requires the definition of concrete economic, social, environmental and horizontal indicators, as well as a base line. This spring, IEEP and BIC will organize an expert workshop to discuss these matters and get input from the biobased industry.

Policymakers don’t have all the answers

Pavel Misiga, Head of the Circular Economy & Biobased Systems Unit of the European Directorate-General for Research & Innovation (DG RTD), also stressed the importance of the industry contributing to the discussion, since the European Commission does not have all the answers. “Take biorefineries for instance: the sustainability of various projects in this area varies widely. Some are less sustainable than current fossil solutions, so we will have to be selective in which projects we support.”

According to Jarle Wikeby, Senior Project Director of the Norwegian biorefinery Borregaard, the future success of biobased products does not only depend on investments: “We must, in particular, accelerate commercialization. Our customers need the right incentives to switch to biobased, because the fossil chemicals they are using now perform satisfactorily in their eyes.”

According to Fabio Sagnelli, program manager at Novamont, the focus should not only be on renewable raw materials, but especially on end-of-life solutions, right from the design phase of a product. “Moreover, critical mass is needed to really get the biobased economy off the ground. The industry cannot do this alone; the entire value chain is needed for that. ”

Bio-waste

In a fully circular economy, a product at the end of its life cycle is not waste, but the feedstock for new products. In this way a waste-free society is created.

When it comes to the biobased industry, there is a specific interest in bio-waste as feedstock. The revised Article 22 of the European Waste Framework Directive (WFD) makes the separate collection and recycling of bio-waste compulsory from 1 January 2024. Member States must also take measures to encourage the recycling (including composting and fermentation) of bio-waste and to promote the use of materials produced from bio-waste. Moreover, there should be European standards for the processing of compost and digestate.

A challenge here is that the separate collection of bio-waste is arranged very differently in most European countries. This is shown in a study that BIC carried out together with Zero Waste Europe (ZWE). Enzo Favoino, Chairman of the Scientific Committee of ZWE presented the first results during the conference.

Big differences

Because the rules differ per country and sometimes even per region or municipality, there are major differences in the quantities and quality of the bio-waste collected. The effectiveness of the collection also varies. For example, European countries yearly collect an average of 116.7 kg of food waste per person. Greece, Spain and Italy score (far) above that average, the Netherlands and Belgium lag behind. This means that there is a lot of room for improvement, Favoino concludes, also in countries that already have a tradition of separate waste-collection.

Some companies spontaneously take the lead. Marcello Somma, head of R&D and Business Development at Fater (producer of brands such as Pampers, Tampax and Always) says that nowadays his company is investing more often in the development of end-of-life applications than in product innovation. Fater has its own recycling plant.

Antonio Bisignano, Head of Logistics and Contract Management at the waste collection company AMSA responsible for waste management in Milan, talked about the way in which bio-waste is collected across the city. By dispensing biodegradable waste bags and collecting the waste door to door, it is made easy for people to separate waste. This approach is bearing fruit: the effectiveness of collection in Milan is currently 63%, with only around 7% of contaminants.

According to Mindaugas Maciulevičius, EU Bioeconomy Strategy Rapporteur of the European Economic & Social Committee (EESC), successful collection can also be encouraged by focusing not on fines for violations, but on positive aspects: less methane emissions and less pollution of the oceans. Plus the fact that of all waste collection systems, separate collection results in the lowest consumer costs.

The BIC and Zero Waste Europe report is expected to be published in March 2020.

Connecting regions and the bio-based industry

A third topic at the meeting was the introduction of the new digital partnering platform for the regions. Ben Kennard, Communications and Stakeholder Relations Manager at the Bio-based Industries Consortium, presented the new platform, that enables regions and industry to explore opportunities for collaboration. BIC industry members can identify regions that offer opportunities for investing in the bio-economy, for example because they have a sufficient supply of feedstocks or because they offer financial incentives to investors. Through the platform, regions can look up industry partners who are in line with the objectives in their specific bio-economy strategy or smart specialization strategy.

The platform is expected to be officially introduced in March, during a joint event between BIC and the European Committee of the Regions. We will return to this topic soon in Agro & Chemistry.

Future

The partnering platform, but also the studies that passed the review, are the result of the many studies and activities that BIC has started in recent years. “We see it as our task to bring stakeholders together,” said Mat Quaedvlieg, chairman of BIC, in his closing speech. “In this way we help our members prepare better for the future and the industry to develop further.”

This article was made possible with the cooperation of the Bio-Based Industries Consortium.