The role of bioplastics in a circular economy
BioBags are made from Mater-Bi – a compostable resin produced by Italian research company Novamont. For more than 20 years, Novamont has been sourcing environmentally friendly alternatives to polyethylene-based plastic bags and films.
Mater-Bi compostable bioplastics are designed to divert organic waste away from landfills for recycling into compost to improve soil health. We know soil needs certain nutrients to be fertile, but did you know soil is a finite resource? Projections say the amount of arable land per earth inhabitant will be halved by 2050 due to factors including erosion, deforestation and development.
Novamont is a global leader in ‘bioeconomy’ and CEO Catia Bastioli is pioneering opportunities to decarbonise the economy and reconnect it with society. “We are not just producing products. Everybody is okay to produce a lower impact product. The question is the model of economy and we should export not just products but our interest in the quality of life of people,” Catia explains.
What is a circular economy?
The circular economy moves us away from today’s ‘take-make-waste’ linear model towards an economy that is regenerative by design. In the circular economy, natural systems are regenerated, materials are increasingly from renewable sources, and waste is avoided through circular design of materials, products and business models.2
The circular economy distinguishes between technical and biological cycles – where food and organic materials feed back into the system through processes such as composting and anaerobic digestion. These cycles regenerate living systems (e.g. soil), which provide renewable resources for the economy.
Composting is an aerobic process generating carbon dioxide, which has a much lower global warming potential than methane. Besides carbon, compost contains other nutrients that can nourish and strengthen soils, so that using compost in food growing can mean fewer chemical fertilisers and less irrigation are required. This consequently reduces emissions in sectors such as mining (mineral extraction), industry (ammonia production), and energy (pumping power for irrigation).2
Our life depends on soil
As Novamont CEO Catia Bastioli says: ”Our life depends on soil — it’s the starting point for food production and it stores huge amounts of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.”1
“Soil is not renewable, it takes over 2,000 years to form 10cm of ground. But our life depends on soil – it’s the starting point for food production, and it stores huge amounts of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. However, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, 33 percent of our soil is now degraded and harmed by chemical pollution, acidification, nutrient depletion and other problems.
“If everyone knew that the soil that provides their food is not renewable, it would be easier to develop an individual and collective responsibility.
“The combined effects of climate change and soil degradation could reduce agricultural production by half in certain arid areas in the next 30 years. Globally, we need much more organic matter, and properly separating organic waste during waste collection would provide that,” Catia said.
How do BioBags enable a circular economy?
“Renewable products that can biodegrade — such as bioplastics — help to avoid the build-up of unnatural substances in solid and liquid organic streams, improving their quality so that they that can be used to enrich the ecosystem. This preserves the quality of water and soil and makes regeneration an integral part of the production process.
“Today, only two percent of plastic packaging worldwide is reused in a similar way, and only 12 percent is down-cycled. The production and consumption system must become circular so that we consume as few resources as possible, use those resources wisely and ensure that they can be reused.
“Biodegradable and compostable products are not the ultimate answer to pollution, but they help reduce pollution. This would reduce the accumulation of non-biodegradable substances in solid and liquid organic streams and maximise the recovery of the organic substance, which is vital to regenerating soil and limiting emissions.
“Multilayer-thin packaging, for example, is hard to recycle and often dirty from food. If it were made from compostable bioplastics, and accompanied by a network of composting plants, that packaging could be collected with food waste. This would make the traditional stream of plastic waste substantially cleaner, and therefore easier and more valuable to recycle, because contaminated plastic is less valuable for recyclers,” Catia explains.
What is a bioeconomy?
A bioeconomy or ‘biobased economy’ refers to the production of bio-based goods, services or energy from biological material (or biomass) as the primary resource base.
Novamont promotes the development of a bioeconomy model based on the efficient use of renewable resources, regeneration of local areas, and biorefineries for the production of bioplastics of renewable origins.
Novamont’s circular bioeconomy model
The Novamont model is based on three pillars: the bioeconomy infrastructures, integrated agricultural value chains and the development of innovative products designed as opportunities to find solutions to problems affecting society.
1. Regeneration of decommissioned industrial sites. Novamont is currently revitalising six decommissioned industrial sites as biorefineries to regenerate industrial and rural areas with positive effects on employment and local economics, which reducing environmental impacts. To date, four original and replicable technologies have already been created at the base of the Mater-Bi® family of products.
2. Sustainable agricultural value chain. Based on sustainable practices respecting biodiversity and aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, Novamont ensures that production of renewable raw materials does not occur in soils with high biodiversity and high carbon reserves. We promote good agricultural practices, such as the use of compost, an organic soil improver that can naturally restore soil fertility.
3. Products as solutions. Novamont’s products are elements of a system with much wider effects than the single product. They solve specific environmental, economic and social issues including the recycling of organic waste and the replenishing of nutrients to agricultural soils with cascading benefits to communities.
- Politico. (2019). ‘Europe’s soil is increasingly at risk — and here’s how to revive it’.
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation. (2019). ‘How the circular economy tackles climate change’.
- Catia Bastioli. (2017). ’A circular approach to bioeconomy: an opportunity to decarbonise the economy and reconnect it with society’.
- Novamont. (2020). ‘Sustainable development is a necessity for everyone.
For us it is already a reality’.