Tuesday 4 September 2012

Biopolymer World Policy Discussion Group

Dr John Williams (NNFCC) chaired a panel comprising David Webber (PA-Europe),  Marco Versari, Presidente, Assobioplastiche and Dirk den Ouden (Avantium) which, after a short introduction dealt with questions from the audience. The following unverified opinions were noted:
·         There is no high-level political support for biopolymers yet in Brussels, but the Horizon 2020 €80bn R&D Fund includes projects on bioplastics.
·         Food waste is a key issue in Brussels and any solutions to the problem are bound to involve packaging.  A Bio-Preferred packaging policy is being encouraged.
·         Any bioplastics revolution must start by addressing the food waste problem.  (Collection at source in biodegradable bags for feeding to anaerobic digesters?)
·         The EU Commission is considering a Europe-wide ban on PE shopping bags. There must be an exemption for bioplastic bags.
·         An EU definition of “bioplastic” along with norms and standards is required!
·         Bioplastics production is seen as a long-term solution to the decline of chemistry and the chemical industry in Italy.
·         The EU and national governments need to educate consumers to improve their understanding of bioplastics: they need to know why it is right to buy bio.
·         EU farmers seem less “tuned in” to bioplastic possibilities than the Americans.  EU agricultural policy (which gives a 7 year guaranteed income for growing food) should support farming of non-food crops for biopolymers.
·         Biopolymers must not suffer the legacy of biofuels, the production of which is blamed for driving up food costs.  They must be produced from non-food crops in future. 
·         The conversion from food-crop to biomass waste must not be mandated too soon or it will kill the industry.
·         The EU Parliament Environment Committee is most vocal but they look at the bio-economy through “food security – GMO-hating” spectacles.
·         Biopolymers is a tiny industry compared with biofuels.
·         Bio-diesel production is encouraging rain-forest destruction.
·         The biggest user of biopolymers from food crops is the paper industry.
·         The US produces 2 billion tonnes of agricultural waste annually.  Policymakers should encourage its use to make chemicals rather than minimising it.
·         Current politics and legislative structures have been tailored to the needs of a fossil-fuel economy.  Changes will be needed to suit a bio-economy.
·         Consumers have zero-knowledge of how plastics are made so it is hard to promote bio plastics.
·         The use of bioplastics in food packaging is the key to the next growth phase so maybe bioplastics have to be biodegradable.
·         With the developed economies growing slowly, why don’t governments mandate that any further growth in the plastics industry has to be based on renewable resources?
·         Green PP from Braskem is limited to about 50,000 tonnes by their ethylene to propylene conversion capacity.
·         Fuller Adhesives is developing bio-derived and biodegradable adhesives for disposable products.
·         Some ethanol to ethylene conversion plants are reverting to fossil fuels because of the high price of ethanol.
·         Bio-Ethanol (Brazil) incurs the same tax as petrol.  Bio-ethanol for polymers ought to incur lower tax to encourage biopolymer development.
·         Converters won’t pay a premium for Bio-PET but when they use it the bio-claims they can make increase sales and market share of their products.
·         Chinese consumers don’t want their purchases to have any recycled content.
·         MacDonalds don’t want to promote biodegradable packs because they believe it will increase littering.
·         The use of Green PE attracts ROCs (Renewable Obligation Certificates from OFGEM in the UK) and disposal by incineration for energy recovery becomes attractive because it adds no new carbon to the atmosphere.
·         “Why worry about lack of biodegradability when Green-PE can be burned to recover energy without a carbon footprint penalty”.  (He might have said incineration is simply a hot version of composting!)

(from the Biopolymer World Conference, Venice, April 2012)

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