Sustainable feedstock sourcing

As the market for bioplastics grows, inevitable questions around the sustainability of bio-based products continue to be of relevance to the brands and organisations who are driving this growth. We sat down with Rolf Hogan, Executive Director of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials, to discuss the key trends in the bioeconomy, the kinds of specific sustainability risks involved for the bioplastics industry, and what we can look forward to at this year’s RSB Annual Meeting, held alongside the EUBP Conference.

Rolf Hogan, Executive Director of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials

What key trends has RSB been looking at in the bioeconomy this year? 

I think the trend that’s really on everyone’s mind at the moment is the use of new and unconventional feedstocks in the form of waste and residues. It’s a very exciting time to be working in the bioeconomy and the use of wastes and residues opens up some really interesting doors – but it also throws up unique sustainability challenges. RSB has been at the forefront of trying to address these – first with our Standard for Advanced Fuel and now with our ongoing revision to the Standard for Bioproducts – and also provide support to innovators working in these sectors. We’ve got some exciting partnerships kicking off this year and next where we will be ensuring the development of really robust and pragmatic sustainability approaches for new and novel technologies.

Bioplastics is an area of huge growth in Europe and beyond. What are the key sustainability issues that companies should be aware of?

It’s a really exciting time for the bioeconomy! Huge innovations are underway and we’re seeing lots of exciting progress. At its heart, RSB continues to work to support the sustainability of the bioeconomy as defined in our Standard – issues of food security, deforestation, water and land use change are still relevant to the growing bio-based economy – and as technology develops and the industry grows, we will continue to support organisations at all stages of their sustainability journey to overcome these risks and challenges. With the increasing relevance of new and novel feedstocks, like waste and residue materials, bioplastics producers need to be ensuring they have proper mechanisms in place to manage traceability. The bioplastics industry is also looking for guidance and leadership on approaches to mass balance, the role of waste carbon, waste plastic and other issues that are coming to the fore due to this rapid progress. Ensuring these risks and challenges are covered by our standard has resulted in our market-leading certification.

Of course, no discussion around sustainability in bioplastics is complete without looking at the role of recycling and this is where the synergies between the bioeconomy and the circular economy are probably most relevant.

It is important to note that most people assume that the ‘bio’ label automatically confers sustainability. RSB is working with organisations globally to understand the specific challenges faced in building a truly sustainable bioplastics industry – and it’s brilliant to be working with the likes of European Bioplastics to ensure that this conversation remains a priority.

It’s great to have RSB hosting its Annual Meeting alongside the EUBP Conference. Can you tell us a little bit about what we can expect? 

It’s exciting to be a part of your Conference – we always enjoy attending and this year is the first time that we’ve held our meeting alongside your event. For us this is a deliberate move to cement RSB’s position as a partner of choice for the bioplastics and bioproducts sectors – we are closely aligned with aviation and, while we still retain very close ties with the industry, we are expanding our footprint and impact into new areas and – I’m sure you’ll agree – bioplastics is a natural fit for us.

We have an exciting 2-day programme planned, kicking off with our business forum where we will be tackling the issue of how to Grow the Future of Bioproducts. We’ll be hearing from big brands and organisations as they share some key lessons and insights on scaling up from the ‘wow’ factor to lasting impact in their supply chains. We will also be learning more about the role of circularity in the bioeconomy and this will be of particular interest to EUBP members who are well placed to thrive in both the bioeconomy and the circular economy. Later, we’ll be hosting a member showcase where our community members will be hosting two practical and collaborative roundtables to develop solutions to some big picture challenges. Finally, our formal Assembly will see our community debate and sign-off on updates to our Standard, including the revision of our Standard for Bio-based (and Advanced) Products.

There is a strong focus on the circular bioeconomy at your business forum – why do you think now is the time to bring the circular economy into discussions around the bioeconomy?

The circular economy has become a buzzword in sustainability in recent years and it’s easy to see why – it offers some really elegant solutions to major challenges of over-consumption, waste and greenhouse gas emissions. However, the circular economy still requires raw material inputs to maintain and grow material loops. The bioeconomy on the other hand is not inherently sustainable and, unless sustainability principles are embeded from the start, it is entirely possible for biological resource consumption to far outstrip regeneration potential. In combining the two approaches to build a circular bioeconomy, which reduces overall resource consumption and utilises biological, rather than fossil and other finite resources, it’s possible to overcome the challenges presented in each approach and build a viable model for long-term prosperity that is based on sustainability.

We’ll really be digging into these synergies and with brands and organisations like Maersk, Air France, UPM, WWF and European Bioplastics (to name a few!) joining us, it’s going to be a really exciting session!

Rolf Hogan will attend the 13th EUBP Conference on 4-5 December in Berlin, Germany. The RSB Annual Meeting will be held from 6-7 December 2018 at the same venue.