The Autumn round of Horizon Europe calls has been recently closed. Several challenges recurred in the texts of the calls, setting requirements for the new projects working on the biobased materials of the future and on packaging. EUBP has been involved in several applications submitted in the past days, working specifically on tasks related to standardisation, replication but also the integration of the consumers’ and end-users’ perception in the design of novel products.
An analysis of the current trends.
Some common trends and challenges are recurrent all over the text of these calls, setting a higher bar for the industry and research working on packaging materials but also on biopolymers:
- Biobased packaging: The focus is on facilitating the large-scale deployment of new sustainable and high-performing, biobased packaging materials with improved properties: the materials will have to be recyclable and/or biodegradable, lightweight and functional, but also durable, especially in unfavourable environments. The improvement is measured with respect to existing fossil and/or existing biobased benchmarks. One of the challenges is also represented by the seemingly opposing requirements of barrier/surface properties to be obtained by innovative coatings or multi-layered structures, and the need to make the product easy to recycle, which is notably easier with fully biobased or mono-material structures. Not a trivial issue to address.
- Social acceptance of circular biobased solutions and products: The end-users’ perception, behaviour and preferences need to be integrated in the product design. This integration is especially important in food and consumer goods packaging, but also relevant in industrial packaging. The key aspect is to integrate the disposal at end-of-life already in the product planning stage e.g., avoiding littering, enabling easy sorting and high-target recycling with the correct stream. It is fundamental to design measures to deliver transparent communication, aiming at improved societal acceptance of biobased innovation and at supporting consumers, public procurers and the business-to-business market in making responsible and informed choices. Information about the environmental impacts, including on ecosystems, of uncontrolled disposal and of uncontrolled littering into the open environments and of the consequent risks should be included in an improved labelling system to guide informed choices for consumption.
- New products and their safety for the environment: The proposals have been requested to work on the assessment based on the safe-and-sustainable-by-design (SSbD) framework, but also to develop recommendations that can advance further the application of the SSbD framework, indicating thresholds that can support the criteria definition and improvements for the assessment SSbD methodologies, including any specificities related with biobased surfactants.
- Unlocking of new applications of biobased polymers and co-polymers: there are hundreds of molecular structures with limited application outside the lab, which may be worth exploring in view of future upscaling and market uptake. A blending of (new or known) biobased polymers to obtain materials with novel, advanced properties is also high on the agenda of these calls.
- Deliver biobased solutions which are biodegradable with a reduced environmental impacts on soil, water and air quality, biodiversity and climate: The amount of waste littered in the open environment and causing pollution from harmful substances released from such waste streams, e.g., from plastic littering, has reached the level of a global emergency, especially affecting soil and water quality and biodiversity in land and marine environments. Several calls pointed at selecting a set of combinations of biobased products and end-of-life environments, covering the end-of-life pathways in industrial composting plants, anaerobic digesters and home-composting, as controlled environments(1), and soil and water, as open environments(2).
- Support to the development of standard(s) for biodegradability in controlled/open environments and clear labelling for end consumers and customers. Standardisation requests emanating from the European Commission (EC) ask for specific actions from the ESOs (European Standardisation Organisations) to support and complement European policy objectives. Standardisation requests are usually issued to support the implementation of European Union (EU) legislation and policies for products and services. Projects can collaborate with CEN in paving the way for new standards, but this is a long way to go.
1. Controlled environments (if separately collected after their use), such as industrial composting plants, anaerobic digesters and home-composting, for example in cases where products and materials are contaminated from food or from other organic substances during their use
2. Open environments, for example in those cases of uncontrolled waste littering, or in those cases where the products are used already in the open environment and their biodegradation ‘in situ’ is the expected end-of-life.