The bioeconomy in the UK can aid get rid of plastic waste, claims the bioplastics professional
Paul Mines, CEO of Biome Bioplastics, explains the single-use medical plastic and the opportunities that arise from the bioeconomy
Many applications for conventional single-use plastics take time. In the last few months there has been real momentum for change: calls for a “latte” tax, a promised consultation on a single-use plastic tax, increased plastic bag fees and a strong spotlight on plastic pollution in the oceans.
The environmental damage caused by oil-based plastics is clearly unacceptable and these developments are steps in the right direction. But they’re not the whole story.
While waste should definitely be addressed in the convenience economy, it is neither realistic nor (overall) sustainable to work towards the complete elimination of plastics for packaging and other convenience items. Plastics play a vital role in physically preserving the product and from the effects of moisture, oxygen and other contaminants. In addition, we cannot rely too much on recycling given the dwindling market interest in substandard materials, issues related to food contamination, and the issue of hybrid materials like coffee cups.
What we need is a strong focus on radically improving the sustainability of the plastics that we will continue to need. For these plastics, the clear goal should be to stop the use of fossil fuels. We need to switch to materials that are based on natural, renewable resources and manufacture plastics that (after multiple uses) are fully compostable and have a minimal impact on the environment. Some of these products are already in the market, but the key to combating oil-based plastics dominance on scale lies in expanding and developing the capabilities and range of such products with revolutionary materials science.
Industrial biotechnology is becoming a cornerstone of the bioeconomy. It involves working with natural processes to expand biochemical pathways that can be used in manufacture (often using a biological cell as a “mini-factory”). This sector has the potential to radically improve the way materials are made and create entirely new materials while protecting the environment and reducing costs.
At Biome Bioplastics, for example, our industrial biotechnology development program has already successfully produced sufficient bio-based chemicals for industrial testing from lignin (the wood-based materials found in plants and an abundant renewable carbon source). The availability of these chemicals could revolutionize the bioplastics market, creating natural polymers that can compete with oil-based polymers in terms of cost and functionality. We believe that this type of work can create radical changes in the entire materials industry and be a vital tool in the fight against plastic pollution.
As an active player in the bioeconomy, Biome Bioplastics welcomes the explicit encouragement for this sector set out in the UK government’s 25-year environmental plan. We believe that a thriving bioeconomy is one of the most effective tools in the fight against plastic waste, and we urge industry and government alike to accelerate the development of new, sustainable materials that ensure that plastic use and environmental pollution can be quickly decoupled.