We had the pleasure of attending the BBIA (British Biobased and Biodegradable Industry Association) event at the House of Lords. The event was well attended by a range of bioplastic industry experts , plus MPs and Lords. I was very honoured to be asked to speak about the innovative work we are doing at Mama Bamboo.
Paul Mines, Chairman of the Industrial Biotechnology Leadership Forum, Adrian Higson, of NNFCC The BioEconomy Consultants and Richard Platt of E4Tech, opened the session, clearly laying out how bio-based and biodegradable materials were a necessary part of the COP26 commitments. Whilst much of COP26 focused on energy, the question regarding alternative materials must also be addressed if we are to achieve net zero. Renewable energy will not be sufficient alone.
They clearly highlighted not only the environmental benefits, but also the potential economic benefits to the UK to develop this fledging industry. We have the expertise and drive to lead this sustainable industry from the front. The UK market for bioplastics has more than doubled in 3 years to around 20,000 tonnes of compostable films and packaging, and is growing rapidly.
Brands and consumers realise now that recycling plastic films is expensive and extremely difficult. Compostables present a more sustainable solution; creating less plastic waste and ensuring fossil-fuel stays where it belongs, in the ground.
However the speakers all stressed that a more joined up governmental approach is needed to bring the necessary legislation and post-use infrastructure up to standard to handle these innovative solutions.
A clear example of where this is failing in the near term is the impending Plastic Packaging Tax – due to launch in April 2022 the policy will penalise bio based packaging manufacturers and incentive manufacturers to take a step back on their sustainability journey and use 70% virgin fossil fuel plastic packaging instead.
Another example prevalent across the country would be the local authorities’ requirement to put used biobased materials in the general waste collection due to the lack of facilities available to process these materials correctly alongside food waste, agricultural waste or sewage. Burying biobased materials in landfill or incinerating them blocks the natural carbon cycle.
Several BBIA members presented their business case studies, showcasing some of the most innovative solutions in production using biobased and biodegradable products in the UK.
Josie Morris MBE – Woolcool, Laura Crawford - Mama Bamboo, Lucy Frankel – Vegware, Lucy Cowton – Futamura, Karen Scofield Seal – Oceanium, Kevin Clarke - KCC Packaging, Steven Pritchard - Fuchs Lubricants, and Norman Keane - Ingevity
Each presenter had a clear message to deliver, manufacturing has the drive to develop these sustainable materials and consumers are willing to make the switch to these more sustainable alternatives, but we need the government to step up and help scale up these cutting edge solutions in order to unlock their full potential.
- Without legislation mandating the use of sustainable materials, profit will lead retail to continue the use of fossil-fuel based plastic. Recognising the positive differential of bio-based materials in tax and incentives schemes will aide individual businesses to achieve economies of scale and make eco products for comparatively affordable
- We need to all agree on a clear labelling and testing standard throughout the UK to avoid ‘greenwashing’ and inform consumers clearly of a products’ origins and best disposal method
- And investment is needed in the collection and infrastructure to process these materials correctly to complete the carbon cycle.
It was invigorating to be in a room with over a hundred people all committed to the same eco-journey. A hundred very bright, very driven individuals bringing biochemistry, bioengineering, soil science, air quality and economic analysis together to present solutions to one of the most pressing issues of our planet.
At times I personally find my energies ebbing as we battle to get our message out and understood, and we come up across hurdle after hurdle to change the profit driven retail ethos and persuade government to take this step with us instead of sticking materials and processing in the 'too tricky' folder.
If you would like to learn more about the great work the BBIA are undertaking, please click here