Governments, companies and research institutes are the driving force behind the bio-based economy in Europe. For the general public, however, ‘bio-based’ remains an unfamiliar concept. Subsidised by the EU, the BioSTEP project aims to involve people from outside the ‘triple helix’.
BioSTEP is supported by an international consortium of five countries: Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, the UK and the Netherlands. LEI Wageningen UR is one of the partners involved. Scientist Greet Overbeek says that it is important to make society feel more involved with the bio-based economy.
“We studied how various bio-based developments got off the ground in the five countries, and it was always the triple helix which carried the load. The stimulus this provides is good but ultimately we also need more urgency and understanding from the wider society. This would increase awareness of the need to reuse biotic waste streams and help people understand the difference between products made from fossil materials and those from biomass.”
Within the framework of BioSTEP, LEI Wageningen UR carried out research into the social and environmental impact of bio-based product groups such as biofuels and bioplastics. In addition, the research institute is responsible for one of the project’s four case studies: the Biobased Delta. This project involves government bodies, companies and knowledge institutes working together to develop the bio-based economy in the Southwest of the Netherlands. Overbeek: “In the Biobased Delta the partners also focus on increasing the engagement among stakeholders outside of the triple helix, especially SMEs. The general public is also introduced to bio-based products.”
According to Overbeek, events are a good method for introducing people to the bio-based economy. The Biobased Delta, for instance, presented itself to the general public during the Delta Innovation Days in Bergen op Zoom (NL) in late May: “People were shown a wide range of bio-based products such as crash barriers made from starch, flax, hemp and roadside grass. They also had the opportunity to make plastics from potato peel remains. Looking around, there are many examples, such as bio-based asphalt, building materials from biomass or cups from polylactic acid.”
Once in contact with bio-based products the feedback is positive, says Overbeek. “People like the idea that products are made from natural resources and are satisfied with the results. This applies, for instance, to residents who have used bio-based materials when renovating their home. The challenge now is to apply these experiments on a larger scale and ensure that the government stimulates the use of bio-based products.”