Tomi Nyman Column

Keeping A Good Balance Between Economics and Biodiversity (FREE)

Driving a sustainable future requires new ways of thinking and structures. Tomi Nyman's bi-weekly column aims to bring some food for thought into the discussions and development of the industry. Today, Tomi writes about why keeping a good balance between economics and biodiversity is the future! This is a FREE article.

The summer is already here on the northern hemisphere. The nature is geared up for a new growth season. Bio-based plastics are largely produced from crops grown during the summer period and less from raw materials available throughout the year. Diversifying sourcing to the northern and southern hemispheres and equatorial areas is important. The crops are prone to diseases, pests, abrupt changes in weather. Climate change and biodiversity loss impact the availability of raw materials for bio-based plastics unless the sources are diversified and availability is secured.

Plastics altogether are a key enabler when it comes to cost-efficient logistics, supporting long-term preservation of food and preventing foodwaste. The total prevention of foodwaste could enable mitigating almost 2/3 of the global emissions as vast areas of land could be freed up for the wild nature thus increasing both carbon absorption and biodiversity. Every single avoided kilo matters. In the meantime, while working towards that goal, various waste and residue and other non-cultivated biomass streams represent a huge potential feedstock pool for bio-based plastics.

The total amount of biomass in the world has been estimated to be 500-600 billion tons, calculated as carbon. In the US alone, over 60 million tons of food is wasted and 35 million tons end up landfilled, causing methane through uncontrolled rotting. Methane, as we know, is a major contributor to climate change and over 20 times more potent greenhouse gas compared to carbon dioxide. In some developing countries even 50% of food is wasted and landfilled, yet others suffer from famine. Improving the even distribution of food helps solve famine. Capturing the excess organic waste for the production of bio-based plastics and chemicals would make an ideal case for bio-based plastics solving the climate issue from multiple angles simultaneously. The amount of organic waste from households is about a third of the total organic waste generated and the retail sector represents ~10% in the developed countries. Food service, i.e. restaurants, also contributes to a third in the developed countries.

Aiming to produce bio-based plastics from waste and residue raw materials can make a substantial impact on climate. Yet, avoiding the foodwaste in the first place makes an even bigger impact and leaves more than plenty land available for feedstock cultivation, whether it is sugars, vegetable oils or lignocellulosics. Biofuels take up today as much as 60-70% of certain bio-based and food quality raw materials. As electrification gradually reduces the need for regular traffic fuels, more agricultural land is released, either for wild nature and reforestation or for the cultivation of bio-based feedstock for plastics and chemicals. Gaining access to the raw materials with simultaneously acting to increase biodiversity is a joint effort and must be valued within the circular bioeconomy. Keeping a good balance between economics and biodiversity is the future!

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