When we started talking a year ago about opening a UK association to represent bio-based and biodegradable producing and converting companies, I had just about finished a long series of activities in the organic waste business and as part of a team that had successfully worked to get Italian and then EU legislation through to reduce plastic bag consumption. It had been a thrilling ride, and crowned with personal satisfaction too.
A new and exciting personal challenge emerged, to bring to the UK some of the experience I had developed over the last twenty years working for associations on waste and resource issues. As the discussions evolved it became clear that the UK has failed to develop those industries growing in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Brazil, the USA, Italy, China, around the production of bio-based chemicals for conversion into a myriad of new materials and products. Why ? Why was the UK so behind when it has some of the worlds’ best research, a great legal system, a friendly investment environment, a large consumer market and readily available venture capital ? Why, with its history of the chemical industry had the UK not risen to the challenge of producing chemicals and products from biomass as elsewhere has ?
There is never one easy answer, the silver bullet, to resolve complex questions but there are some indicators we can understand when we look at what happened in other countries: and essentially it comes down to creating the connectivity between public policies (government), research (start-ups), finance and existing companies in associated fields. For example, when Abengoa the Spanish energy giant, developed its business from renewable energy (solar) to energy from biomass waste, it was only a short step before it started using the biomass to extract sugars, as they call them “ the molecule of the future” to produce chemicals and fuels. Why did they do this in the USA rather than in the UK ?
Well, one reason is that the USA developed since 2002 a Government prefered purchasing policy for bio-based products which today account for 14,000 products and estimated turnover of $370 billion in 2014. That has attracted huge investments because there are market certainties for investors.
Such a policy, at zero cost for taxpayers and the Treasury, is a simple policy ask for BBIA to jump-start a new sector in the UK. Another is the attention to seemingly small details like the plastic bags charge- in Wales and Northern Ireland this has led to a dramatic fall in plastic bag usage. Good. But the same reduction has been achieved in Italy by banning mono-use throw away plastic bags while allowing the sale of compostable bags, that are then used by consumers to collect their foodwaste. Such a policy, again at zero cost for taxpayers and with inherent savings for local councils (see the Oldham case) would spark interest in producing compostable bags in the UK while increasing food waste capture rates and quality. These are not rocket science, but reasoned arguments which evidently UK policy makers have not heard so far and which show examples being widely implemented throughout the world.
Similarly, were we to impose the use of bio-based lubrificants in areas such as UK internal waters (lakes, rivers) in motor boats, we could save lots of damaging , polluting spillage. The adoption of bio-based lubrificants by the new Rover plant in the UK is one example of how companies understand the benefits to their bottom line and to their environmental performance by using bio-based and biodegradable products. And read the same for insecticides, disposable tableware, fibres, insulation materials and hundreds of other uses.
And this is why we are here. To promote these cases, to make sure many others develop. We count upon your support and cooperation to make the UK a bioeconomy platform of excellence.