On the way to market introduction, biobased products encounter all kinds of hurdles that do not apply to fossil products. In the EU project STAR4BBI, Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, together with European partners, investigated what must be done to offer biobased products equal market opportunities.
In the past three years, researchers have identified directives, standards and policy measures that apply to the market introduction of biobased products. In order for Europe to be able to make the transition to a circular and biobased economy, fully-fledged biobased alternatives to fossil materials and products must be introduced on a large scale. "Existing legislation and regulations, however, hinder the introduction of new biobased products," concludes Martien van den Oever, researcher at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research.
Existing policies as obstacles
As an example, the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) creates a strong incentive for use of biomass for biofuels and bioenergy. With grants received, biofuel and bioenergy producers are able to pay a higher price for feedstock. This puts pressure on availability and price of biomass for bio-based materials which do not have a supportive legislative mechanism in place. Next to this, some European product standards are an obstacle, according to Van den Oever: “For instance, standards often favor existing materials, rather than base themselves on the desired functionalities. As a result, excellent biobased alternatives to fossil-based products are not accepted because they do not have exactly the same properties as the fossil material.”
Confusion creates pollution
In order to put an end to this nonlevel playing field, STAR4BBI has examined, among other things, the best routes towards specific directives, standards and certification schemes for biobased products. “To overcome barriers for biobased materials, and balance the support for material and energy use of biomass, a new policy framework is first of all needed,” says Iris Vural Gursel of Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. According to her, this will accelerate the transition from fossil-based materials to bio-based alternatives which has been considerably slow so far. “Think of a Renewable Materials Directive, similar to the one existing for biofuels and bioenergy. This directive must support the ‘right’ biobased materials, that offer solutions to environmental and societal challenges faced today."
"An example is the mandatory use of compostable materials when they offer added benefits by increasing the amount of green waste going towards composting instead of incineration or landfilling. Examples are coffee capsules, tea bags and bio waste bags. It is believed that taking the decision out of the consumer’s hand will resolve a lot of the issues faced in the waste management; as confusion creates pollution.”
Best options for end-of-life
STAR4BBI has therefore also identified routes to establish the best end-of-life options for biobased materials. Sustainability must be the starting point, Martien van den Oever emphasizes: “This means that in their choice of materials manufacturers also have to take into account what happens after use. Sometimes recycling may be the best option, but it doesn't always have to be. Think of food packaging that is often contaminated by food residues and is therefore difficult to recycle. If you make the materials digestible, you can still produce biogas from it after use.”
According to Iris Vural Gursel, a supportive regulatory and standardization framework is a prerequisite for unlocking the potential of the bio-based economy and ensuring a level playing field. STAR4BBI developed a set of proposals and has laid the foundation for this to support the market uptake of bio-based products.