Marco Jansen, Braskem's Biopolymer Business Director EMEA, explains why realising a truly circular economy goes hand in hand with a regulatory framework for biobased materials.I started at Braskem roughly 15 years ago, with the challenge to explain a pioneering idea: the environmental and technical benefits of making polyethylene from sugarcane.
At first, there were so many questions, but even in those early years the notion that you could replace a fossil raw material with an agricultural one seemed. revolutionary. Over the years the questions have evolved as stakeholders tackle the transition from a linear to circular plastics economy, one that includes both technical and biological cycles.In recent years, bio-sourcing has grown in importance. At EU level, the 2018 update of the Bioeconomy Strategy was an important driver in the debate on how to strengthen and scale up biobased sectors within the EU. Coupled with this, the European Commission's Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy and the Circular Economy Package further helped to outline how biobased plastics could play an increased role in Europe.
At national level, the Dutch Transition Agenda, launched in 2018, set about accelerating the transition to a more sustainable and circular economy. As part of this agenda, there is a focus on promoting the use of renewable materials and reducing waste.
Based on research and consultation, the Transition Agenda established a goal for 15% of plastics to be biobased by 2030. It is only now that we are seeing more detail in how that can be achieved.
It reflects a trend which is playing out in Brussels right now: EU Legislators can see that if they do not establish a regulatory framework for the use of renewable materials (both recyclate and biobased) in plastics production, it could hamper the future development of a potentially key technology and put Europe at a disadvantage in the circular economy "arms race".
This important work has now pivoted from high level concepts to technical detail - issues which can be summed up in one word: trust. How can we trust that biobased plastics do indeed bring environmental benefits? How can we trust carbon footprint calculations? How can we trust bio-sourcing to grow sustainably?
In January of this year, CE Delft published an analysis of the Sustainability of Biobased Plastics, focusing on CO2. It concluded that any regulatory "support" should be conditional to meeting sustainability criteria, and that these should include "reduced GHG emissions comparted to fossil alternatives, as well as rules on where/how the required biomass can be sourced"i.
Braskem's commitment to sustainability was a key driver in delivering a plastics portfolio that offers reduced carbon footprint and responsible sourcing. From the very beginning of our biobased journey, brands wanted clear assurances as to the origins and environmental impact of the material, based on established standards and legal requirements, such as the EU's Renewable Energy Directive (RED II).
As is often the case in innovative sectors, the legislator follows a little way behind. But in this specific case, industry piggy-backed on a useful precedent: biofuels. CE Delft again: "To evaluate the carbon footprint reduction of biobased plastics and ensure compliance with sustainability criteria, a system like RED II for biofuels can also be applied to biobased plastics."ii
Yet, while CE Delft acknowledge that the continued use of the revised RED II approach is possible, it is only a "starting point". And while it's still some way off, it's good to see that biobased plastics may now eventually get its own tailor-made regulatory framework.
And this is where we come back to the beginning - the Circular Economy is a circle after all. According to Plastics Europe, if we are to achieve 78% circularity, and become a carbon neutral sector, significantly increased quantities of sustainable biomass need to be made available for the plastics industry by 2050iii. All the modelling supports this.
One of the main bottlenecks is regulation. That's why it's critical that countries such as The Netherlands become champions of the sustainable Circular Bio Economy.
Braskem therefore welcomes the Dutch Government's continued support for progressively increasing the share of plastics made from sustainably sourced biomass, and its commitment to finding smart regulatory instruments that incentivize such materials, so that biobased plastics can help build a carbon neutral circular bio economy by 2050.
i CE DELFT Sustainability of biobased plastics (January 2023)
ii CE DELFT Sustainability of biobased plastics (January 2023)
iii SYSTEMIQ ReShaping Plastics (April 2022)
Sustainable Brands Madrid 23's motto is 'From purpose-driven brands to impact-driven brands'
Braskem continues investing in the development of its biopolymers in Asia and just started its Tokyo Representative Office.