We are pleased to announce that we have a journal article accepted for publication in Sustainable Production and Consumption titled The complex role of single-use compostable bioplastic food packaging and foodservice ware in a circular economy: Findings from a social innovation lab. This article highlights themes from the social innovation lab conducted in Canada, which include challenges and opportunities with regulation, end-of-life management, single-use consumption culture, and feedstock sourcing.
The article “A Perspective of the COVID-19 Pandemic in the Plastic Waste Management and Cooperatives of Waste Pickers in Brazil”, recently published in the journal “Circular Economy and Sustainability”, presents an analysis of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Cooperatives of Recyclable Material Waste Pickers and the challenges of plastic recycling during this period in Brazil.
Considering that in 2020 Brazil became the global epicenter of Covid-19, this scenario directly affected the habits of the population. One of them was the increase in the consumption of plastics due to its importance in packaging and in applications as protective material. At the same time, the country also faces the worsening of social problems related to waste management, especially due to the important role played by waste pickers in this chain.
“The waste pickers are professionals who need visibility and social protection not only to face the current health crisis, but also to guarantee their income and survival”, points out Lais Roncalho, postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Chemistry at the Federal University of São Carlos (DQ – UFSCar), member of the Center for the Development of Functional Materials (CDMF) and first author of the article.
For the elaboration of the work, the researcher says that data collection was carried out based on the literature in order to organize the history of waste management in Brazil, as well as the current challenges of the health crisis. Data from CEMPRE (Business Commission on Recycling), ABRELPE (Brazilian Association of Special Waste and Public Cleaning Companies) and other organizations were also used to build a critical analysis of the topic.
“In this study, we point out the lack of data on waste management in the country and highlight the importance of the social inclusion of waste pickers for an effective Circular Economy. After the pandemic and the change in scenario that has been taking place, we concluded that we need adequate planning and improvements in waste management, recycling programs and political intervention to guide collective responsibility and, thus, guarantee the social rights of waste pickers”, concludes Lais Roncalho. The article also has the contribution of researchers Sandra A. Cruz, professor at the DQ – UFSCar and also linked to the CDMF, and Rafaela F. Gutierrez, a reseacher at the University of Toronto.
To access the full article, click HERE. And the original post (in portuguese) HERE.
Lais Roncalho, postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Chemistry at the Federal University of São Carlos (DQ – UFSCar), member of the Center for the Development of Functional Materials (CDMF) and the SIMBIO group, is the first author of the article “Challenges in the context of single-use plastics and bioplastics in Brazil: A legislative review” recently published in the scientific journal Waste Management & Research.
With the proposal to carry out a legislative review regarding the Brazilian scenario facing the challenges of laws in the context of plastics and bioplastics, one of the motivations for writing the article, as Roncalho says, was the fact that Brazil does not have structured data in this context, as well as the difficulty of accessing the laws.
“We noticed a big gap in the literature regarding this type of discussion and that is why we carried out this in-depth review work, where we present a legislative review and discuss the difficulty of implementing policies related to encouraging the bioplastics market. In this sense, the state and municipal laws that prohibit single-use plastics in Brazil are also presented, laws that encourage the replacement of these plastics with biodegradable ones”, she explained.
On the other hand, despite laws and decrees passed that prohibit straws and other disposables by states and municipalities in Brazil and advances in replacing these materials with others of biodegradable origin, the country still faces major challenges in terms of waste management.
“Our research concluded that the most accurate solution for the future impact of bioplastics in Brazil is based on the need for improvements in the proper management of waste, as well as in the recycling and composting of these materials, in accordance with the guidelines imposed by Organs competent bodies. This includes, for example, the development of government policies that encourage the Circular Economy”, informed Roncalho.
The methodology applied by the authors for data collection was based on databases and digital platforms such as the Legislation Portal, the LegisWeb platform, for State Laws, and the Municipal Laws system. In these channels, access was obtained to all the legislative material produced in the history of Brazil, where data were collected and analyzed in detail. Throughout the article, the history of environmental legislation in the country was presented in a descriptive way, evaluating the main guidelines and actions contained in the advance of public policies to ban single-use plastic, aiming at reducing environmental damage.
Sandra A. Cruz, professor of the DQ – UFSCar and CDMF member, and Rafaela F. Gutierrez, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, are also authors of the published work. The research in question has been carried out in partnership with groups from Brazil, Canada, Poland and the United Kingdom, which are jointly developing the project “New Frontiers in Social Innovation Research: Social Innovation Management for BIOPlastics (SIMBIO)”, financed by FAPESP, through of the Trans-Atlantic Platform (T-AP) modality.
The CDMF, headquartered at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), is one of the Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (Cepids) supported by the São Paulo State Research Support Foundation (Fapesp), and also receives investment from the National Council Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), from the National Institute of Science and Technology of Materials in Nanotechnology (INCTMN). The original interview (in Portuguese) can be accessed HERE or HERE.
By Macarena Beltran, Benny Tjahjono, David Bek, Jordon Lazell, Anna Bogush and Lahandi Baskoro
Unlocking the bioplastics supply chain
The Social Innovation Management for Bioplastics project – SIMBIO – led by the Centre for Business in Society in Coventry University and funded by the ESRC, aims to address the environmental and social challenges of bioplastics packaging throughout its entire supply chain. Focusing on bioplastics is important as the packaging industry faces an imperative to reduce the devastating environmental impacts created by fossil-fuel based plastics. The third and final SIMBIO lab entitled Prototyping Solutions was held on the 25th of November, 2021 online (via Zoom) and Onsite (TechnoCentre in Coventry). The lab aimed to evaluate the feasibility, practicality, and potential impacts of solutions that emerged from the second lab, which include: communication with consumers, end of life, policies, certification standards and labelling, education and development of specific products. The lab also aimed to prototype and test these solutions within the social innovation lab “container”.
Participants representing a wide range of stakeholders, including producers, academics, consumers, NGOs, waste management and government representatives, and other important organisations that are part of the bioplastic packaging supply chain, joined the lab to hear from industry experts and participate in two exercises. The event was kicked off with the welcome talk from Professor Nigel Berkeley, Institute Director in the Faculty of Business and Law. This was then followed by a reminder of the mission of the SIMBIO project and a recap from the previous labs from Professor Benny Tjahjono of Coventry University.
Views from industry experts with a wide range of expertise and backgrounds
The event featured presentations from industry experts who were invited to share their knowledge about the different streams of solutions. Kevin Vyse, Head of Technical, ProAmpac RAP, made an opening address that highlighted the timely need for a circular economy and systemic actions in the bioplastic sector. David Newman, Managing Director, Bio-Based and Biodegradable Industries Association (BBIA), presented the findings of a survey conducted with British shoppers, which explored communication issues with consumers, such as people’s [lack of] understanding of the current labelling system for plastics packaging.
Following this presentation, Alice Harlock, Membership and Services Manager from The On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL), talked about labelling. She emphasised the idea that consumers need information at targeted touchpoints to influence their behaviour. Dr Erik Ansink, Associate Professor at the Department of Spatial Economics, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, shared the main findings of his study about recycling decisions for bioplastics. He suggested that educating consumers to change the default recycling behaviour needs efforts beyond logos and recycling information.
Leanne Williams, Policy Analyst from The Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA), reviewed certain waste management processes, regulation and policy (end-of-life) that need to be improved for the processing of bioplastics by the AD sector, Susan Jay, Sector Specialist from The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) shared with the participants the “Compostable plastic packaging guidance” which recommended the use of bioplastics materials for specific applications such as flexible compostable packaging “where it is likely there will be contamination of food waste and co-disposal could encourage food waste recycling – product and packaging can, in theory, be disposed of together” and rigid compostable packaging, primarily in closed systems.
Prof Mark Miodownik, Professor of Materials and Society, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering Sciences, UCL, shared some of the findings of his project “Big Compost experiment” and finally Iris Aquilina, leader of the Bioladies Network and Ambassador of BBIA, discussed the policy and regulatory landscape in the UK and EU around the adoption of bioplastics.
Prototyping Solutions for specific products under certain scenarios
The lab featured two workshop exercises with the participants. Firstly, participants were invited to join parallel break-out sessions to explore the feasibility, practicality and impact of the different solution streams explored by the speakers. On-site break-out sessions focused on specific products, end of life and policies. Break-out sessions delivered ample discussion on the complexities of these solutions.
Secondly, to facilitate the prototyping and testing of different solutions for the uptake of bioplastics products, the research team from CBiS and CAWR created a scenario board game inspired by the Scenario Exploration System produced by the European Union’s Policy Lab team. The latter is used to understand the systemic implications of different actions. Participants were divided into three groups. To create a realistic scenario environment, each group was assigned to a specific product (coffee pods, food caddy liners and ready meal trays) and a particular crisis scenario (e.g. climate change, prolonged pandemic and economic crisis) which encouraged participants to adapt their strategies.
The players were then invited to prioritise certain processes within the bioplastic supply chain (designed in the first social innovation lab) and assign limited resources within different time horizons (5, 10 and 20 years). Resources were related to the solutions streams explored. Players were also encouraged by the game masters to develop collaborative solutions. Whilst there were no winners or losers in each scenario game –the participants were encouraged to indicate which scenario is more feasible to be prototyped.
The discussions during the games have helped participants to think of ways of driving the uptake of biobased biodegradable plastics packaging. Furthermore, it was clear that such participatory approaches play an important role in bringing stakeholders from different sectors to co-create solutions and promote sustainability at the same time.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives published a new report on the state of waste in British Columbia and a proposed agenda for zero waste by 2040. Tamara Shulman and Belinda Li, two of the researchers from the SIMBIO Canadian team, supported the development of this report. This report outlines the predicament with plastics that doesn’t just apply in British Columbia, but also across Canada and the world, including the rising proliferation of bioplastics. The report proposes several next steps to address the problems with plastics, which focuses mostly on banning single-use plastics, significantly reducing use of virgin plastics and the number of types of plastics in circulation, and supporting small businesses in the transition away from single-use items.
This report presents the main findings from the second Social Innovation Lab ‘Designing Solutions’, which was held online on the 10th of June 2021 to expand on possible ‘solutions’ that challenge the norms in bioplastics packaging, identify promising solutions for rapid prototyping, and explore future pathways for improving the sustainable uptake of bioplastics packaging.
Stakeholders from the bioplastics industry, retail sector, consumer associations, government agencies, NGOs and international and UK academics identified three areas of solutions that currently have the highest potential to drive change to a sustainable packaging system. Participants identified: communication with consumers, certification standards & guidelines, and end of life as the most promising solutions applicable to a biobased biodegradable plastics packaging system (also referred to as ‘compostable plastics’ in this report). These solutions were seen as complementary and under a dynamic process, which, combined with long-term measures, such as education and policy/ regulatory measures, may help facilitate the sustainable transition of packaging to compostable plastics packaging.
The second lab also proposed that compostable plastics packaging uptake could not be seen in isolation from the packaging system. They also emphasised the improvement needed to clarify the information on all packaging products and the advanced management practices required for the disposal and collection of all recycled materials by the different actors (e.g. workplaces, local councils). Besides, they called attention to the need to find ways to provide alternative solutions for packaging used on a regular basis in homes (e.g. bathroom products in bottles). This type of packaging may be currently highly recycled; however, due to their frequency of use, these packaging forms can also be reused, refilled, or further re-invented.
The envisioned sustainable pathway by 2030 requires a more fine-grained development of innovations that will be discussed in the third social innovation lab, i.e. ‘rapid prototyping of potential solutions’. This pathway is expected to be supported by innovations (e.g. product innovation, process innovation, service innovation, etc.) and policy changes.
by Macarena Beltran, Jordon Lazell, Benny Tjahjono, David Bek and Anna Bogush
The second of three UK Social Innovation labs focusing on the sustainability of bioplastic packaging was held on the 10th of June 2021. Participants representing a wide range of stakeholders, including producers, retail, consumers, NGOs, and important organisations that are part of the bioplastic packaging supply chain, joined to hear from expert speakers and participate in a workshop exercise.
The event kicked off with a reminder of the mission of the SIMBIO project from Professor Benny Tjahjono from Coventry University. The SIMBIO project seeks to address the bioplastic packaging sector’s economic, social and environmental challenges through social innovation methods. This lab focused on agreeing and expanding on potential solutions. This was informed by the findings of the first lab, which provided a number of recommendations for sustainable pathways moving forward. https://www.simbioresearch.com/seeing-the-system-report-uk-report/. System Thinking concepts to guide the selection of impactful solutions were also introduced by Dr Macarena Beltran from Coventry University.
Following this introduction, the event featured a presentation from Paul Thompson. Paul leads the Compostable Material Certificate Scheme at REAL (Renewable Energy Assurance Limited) as well as feeding into wider organics policy development. Paul gave a detailed overview of the certification scheme and its importance in overcoming the contamination issues that conventional plastic cause in compost generation from waste materials. Paul highlighted the need for certification to be combined with clear messaging for end-users to ensure proper disposal.
The second speaker, Rob Whitehouse, is the Waste Reduction Project Coordinator for Garden Organic. He coordinates council-funded waste reduction projects to reduce household food waste and supports the master composter programme. Rob’s presentation focused on the consumer views and his organisation’s experiments with composting bio-plastic materials, explaining the barriers against further bioplastic use. Rob highlighted some of the challenges that households and local authorities are facing in composting bioplastics materials and the potential of long term legislative and labelling solutions such as banning plastic bags.
The event then featured a workshop exercise whereby participants first ranked and then prioritised six solutions. These were ranked with the imperative of communication with consumers coming out on top, followed by the need for more work in the area of certification standards & guidelines and finally, the need to address the end of life management of compostable packaging products. Participants were also asked to select the most “infuriating” packaging product that is a good candidate for compostable plastics. Very interesting views of participants were collected about the replacement/development of different daily used packaging. Breakout sessions delivered ample discussion on the complexities of these priority areas with participants also considering what stage of success these solutions might reach in 10 years’ time.
We would like to invite you to join us on June 10th 2021, at the Second Bioplastics Social Innovation Lab – “Designing the System”. As an input for the second lab, we are happy to share the “Seeing the System” report (first lab) that proposes recommendations based on the participant insights and the BBIA report that explain the biodegradable and compostable polymer materials briefly.
At the event, we will evaluate current recommendations from the first social innovation lab to unblock the bioplastic packaging supply chain. We also want to:
expand on possible “solutions” that challenge the norms in bioplastic packaging
identify promising solutions for rapid prototyping
explore future pathways for improving the sustainable uptake of bioplastic packaging
Follow-up Innovation Labs – prototyping solutions – will be organised in August-September 2021.
We are delighted to announce that this event will include keynote addresses from Paul Thompson (REAL – Renewable Energy Assurance Limited) and Rob Whitehouse (Garden Organic) and it will be facilitated by members of Coventry University and Dr Dee Hennessy from Creative Exchange.
The report gives further information on the process of biodegradation and it relevance to polymer materials. Such knowledge is critical in the bioplastics sector with two key characteristics explained as being important in determining whether and when the biodegradability of a bioplastic is useful:
To be of practical value the rate of biodegradation has to be appropriate to the timescale of the end use/application involved.
The environment in which the bioplastic finds itself at the end of life. Sometimes bioplastics will break down in certain conditions but not in others (e.g., a material might biodegrade in compost or soil, but not in a marine environment). A few biopolymers will biodegrade under a wider range of environments, for example polyhydroxy alkanoates (PHAs), but these are not a panacea – property and processing characteristics can still restrict potential end uses.
The report also gives further details on the process of composting, annaerobic digestion and soil degradation with reference to the biodegradability of polymer materials. The report also highlights the challenges of achieving biodegradation of biopolymer materials in freshwater and marine environments. The lack of biodegradability of ‘oxo-degradation’ materials is also explained.
Overall the report clarifies many points around the use of biobased materials. The key summary points are as follows:
Biodegradability as a property of a material should always be qualified with reference to the particular environment(s), end uses and relevant timescales.
Standards and/or protocols are largely in place for aerobic composting and anaerobic digestion, as well as soil, freshwater and marine biodegradation. These define appropriate testing environments, timescales and criteria for the useful deployment of biodegradable materials.
There is a need to simplify the messaging on biodegradability and compostability via a clearer labelling system – an initiative that is already underway in the UK.
Bioplastics are, for now, niche products, best suited to a range of specific applications where their environmental credentials offer real benefits over fossil-fuel alternatives.