Hasso von PogrellOp-ed by Hasso von Pogrell, Managing Director, European Bioplastics

On 12 April 2016, at the bioeconomy stakeholders’ conference BioEconomyUtrecht2016, the Working Group on Public Procurement of the European Commission’s Expert Group for Bio-based Products published 15 recommendations for an increased uptake of bio-based products in public procurement programmes. The report includes a range of promotional campaigns targeting specific materials, regions, and sectors, the roll-out of standards and labels, benchmarking and goal setting, targeted outreach and general communication, technical support to procurers, and intervention on legislation. European Bioplastics welcomes the recommendations and strongly supports the implementation of such, as they are a vital step to help bio-based products to unfold their full potential in terms of replacing fossil carbon with renewable resources, job creation and stimulating rural development in Europe.

Convergence of bio-based standards and labels

The report recognises that commonly accepted standards and labels greatly influence and facilitate the public procurement selection process. The Expert Group therefore recommends to accelerate the convergence and uptake of bio-based and sustainability standards and labels. A number of important and accepted standards already exist or are under development, such as the European standard on bio-based products developed by the CEN Technical Committee CEN/TC 411, which includes requirements and test methods regarding essential elements like the LCA, sustainability, end-of-life options, and bio-based (carbon) content of bio-based products. Yet, according to the Expert Group, the thresholds for the minimum amount of bio-based content as well as the sustainability criteria still need to be defined more clearly. At the same time, the communication of these standards through the development or convergence of accepted and well-recognised labels will also have to be promoted better, and the Expert Group suggests incorporating bio-based criteria into the EU Ecolabel scheme – a recommendation that EUBP supports.

Review and intervention of EU legislation

The Expert Group further recommends reviewing EU legislation and identifying policies with the potential to include and foster the uptake of bio-based products in public procurement. In particular, the group suggests integrating bio-based public procurement into the Commission’s most important instruments, including the Green Public Procurement strategy, Horizon 2020, the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking, and the actions of the Circular Economy Package.

European Bioplastics has recently published its position paper on the draft EU Circular Economy Package and outlined how the revised package can help to accelerate the sustainable development of Europe’s bio-economy by promoting the use of bio-based products. Bioplastics play an essential part in the transition towards a circular economy and, in turn, a supportive policy framework for the circular and bio-based economy along the entire value chain is crucial to the development of a strong and competitive bioplastics sector in Europe.

Ultimately, the report recommends to consider a Directive to mandate public procurement action for bio-based materials, including targets for different materials and application categories, if soft advocacy measures do not bring about a sufficiently quick rate of displacement of carbon intensive fossil based materials in the economy. Whether and to what extent such a Directive is feasible in the mid-term remains to be seen. Yet, the Expert Group rightly states, “even if the prospects of success of such a Directive may be limited in the current period, externalities may trigger change”.

There are a number of means and measures that can bring about short and mid term effects to help the bio-based sector grow, many of which are covered by the Expert Group’s recommendations. It is essential to drive forward the implementation of these recommendations with confidence, ambition, and entrepreneurship, and to secure the continued dedication and coordination of all stakeholders involved in order to harness the significant benefits a bio-based economy will bring to the European society.

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Background on the Commission’s Expert Group for Bio-based Products

The Commission’s Lead Market Initiative (2008-2011) set out to explore the demand-side and potentials of the bio-based products sector to create jobs, stimulate rural development, and replace fossil carbon with renewable resources. Subsequently, an Expert Group for Bio-based Products was set up in 2013 to advise the Commission on the development of the bio-based products sector by proposing demand-side policy tools such as standardisation and labels, public procurement, and awareness campaigns. The Expert Group’s Working Group on Public Procurement of Bio-based Products had the goal of developing effective and implementable recommendations for public procurement actions at regional, national, and European level. The results were presented in April 2016 at Bio-economyUtrecht2016. Starting in mid-2016, the next phase in this process w