This became clear in an election debate with Dutch political parties of different orientations, during the annual event of the Green Chemistry New Economy (GCNE) platform yesterday (7 November) at the Railway Museum in Utrecht.
To combat climate change, the Netherlands has committed to stop emitting CO2 and to be fully circular by 2050. In practice, this means giving up fossil fuels and feedstocks and reusing almost all waste as raw materials. This also applies to the chemical industry. The Green Chemistry New Economy (GCNE) platform was set up to accelerate the transition in the chemical industry. GCNE aims for a green chemistry, in which innovative technologies and business models are given and opportunity to realise a new economy based on non-fossil raw materials.
Together with the Top Sector Agri & Food, GCNE has recently been awarded a grant of €338 million from the Dutch National Growth Fund for its BioBased Circular programme. In addition, participating companies and partners are investing another €550 million. The aim is to replace oil and other fossil raw materials for various plastics and materials in packaging, building materials, textiles and coatings with plant-based alternatives, recycled plastics and, eventually, captured CO2.
Biobased raw materials are still much more expensive than fossil ones from oil, though. And although soon a major part of plastics will have to be made from recyclate, less than 5 per cent of recycled plastic is reused globally as yet. This figure also applies to the chemical industry. One reason is that recycled plastic is considered waste by law and therefore cannot be used in new plastic for the food sector, for example.
According to most of the Dutch political parties participating in the debate, the goal to create a circular economy in 2050 has been snowed under in recent years by a one-sided political focus on climate measures such as the transition to green energy and reducing CO2 emissions.
The parties endorse the advice of the Sustainable Development Committee of the Dutch Social and Economic Council (SER), that calls for a European raw materials tax to cap the use of primary raw materials and to reward and subsidise reuse and recycling. According to some of the parties, such a law and raising the percentage of recyclate in plastics, can only be introduced at the European level.
The right-wing Liberal Party (VVD), which has been the largest party in the Dutch Parliament for several years, wants to force Dutch companies to do so via a blending obligation. The upcoming Farmers’ Party prefers mutual agreements with industry to legal obligations. The new Leftist Green Socialist Party (Groenlinks/PvdA) advocates the appointment of a coordinating Minister for Circular Economy and Raw Materials.
To reduce the price difference between fossil, biobased and recycled raw materials, most parties opt for pricing, standardising and subsidising. Some parties would like to abolish current tax breaks and subsidies for the fossil industry. The activist group Extinction Rebellion recently protested vigorously against these subsidies by blocking a highway to The Hague for days, achieving both disgust and admiration from large sections of the population.
An alternative income for farmers
All parties agreed that complex and restrictive laws and regulations must be adjusted to provide more opportunities for industry to go green. For instance, recycling firms do not always succeed in obtaining the mandatory legal ‘end-of-waste status’ needed to sell their circular product as a raw material. All political parties agree that this has to change.
Besides recyclate, green chemistry also needs many biobased agricultural crops as raw materials for plastics, for instance sugar beet, grains, maize and wood. These will have to come from farmers and foresters. The BBB thinks this could create an alternative income for farmers, provided that they will get a good price for their crops and will be supported during the transition. Dutch Farmers are already growing biomass for co-firing power plants. They will grow more crops for biobased building materials in the near future and soon also raw materials for chemicals. The BBB cautions that this should not jeopardise food production, for which Dutch farmers are globally renowned.
See the GCNE website for more information.