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Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way
WEB MAGAZINE - June 2019

How to cut plastic waste and boost the bioeconomy





Plastic plays an important role in our everyday life, as it is found almost everywhere in our homes and workplaces. We wrap our food in plastic, we sit on plastic chairs, we even have clothes with plastic elements. Plastic is important in medical hygiene, is commonly used for packaging and, due to its lightweight qualities, it is commonly used in transportation to increase efficiency.


Every purchase is a vote for the product

However, society is becoming more critical of the overwhelming use of plastic. The intensive production of plastic, its usage, and most importantly, incorrect disposal of plastic waste, have resulted in extensive environmental pollution of land and water. The solution is not just to reduce the use of plastic but also to explore alternative methods of production, such as those afforded by bioeconomy solutions. Bioplastics that are degradable and bio-based offer an alternative.

Of the thousands of products on the shelves in our supermarkets, most are wrapped in single-use plastics to ensure quality standards, freshness, and attractiveness of the product. At the same time, according to 5 Gyres research, 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris litter are currently floating in our oceans, an amount equalling the weight of 33 Eiffel Towers. Every time we spend our money, we are supporting the companies whose products we buy. If we as consumers choose to support the companies that are already turning to bio-based and biodegradable solutions in their product lines, we can support change every time we go shopping.


Bioeconomy provides positive alternatives to plastic

Bioplastics are mainly produced using corn or sugar cane, commonly referred to as food crops or renewable feedstock. In 2018, the renewable feedstock required to produce bioplastics accounted for approximately 1% of the total global plastic production and required less than 0.02% of the world’s arable land, according to Plastics Europe. Naturally, it is imperative that the feedstock for bioplastics is sustainably produced, to ensure that the plastic itself is a sustainable product.

Alternatives to using fossil-based products are already available to consumers. For example, in Estonia and Latvia handmade reusable drinking straws are produced from reed that grows naturally on the shores of the Baltic Sea and inland lakes. This product has a clear and important role in replacing the plastic straw on the market, and is 100% degradable.

Large corporations such as Coca-Cola, LEGO, and Danone, together with WWF, have joined forces under the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance to guide the responsible selection of feedstocks for bio-based plastics, to encourage a more sustainable flow of materials. This will help to create lasting value for present and future generations. For example, LEGO has recently introduced new bricks made from sugarcane grown in Brazil.


Awareness of sustainability the key to drive change

For consumers it is important to show that our everyday consumption habits have an enormous impact on the environment. We need to educate ourselves individually and within groups about specific topics relating to how to live more bio-based and sustainable lives.

For example, an international four-day folk music festival held annually in the Estonian city of Viljandi has started introducing young people and their families to the concept of a sustainable festival. During this festival, the organiser trained people with active onsite workshops where they could measure their ecological footprint. With this knowledge they can see their own capacity to make a difference, introduce it in their own lives, and hopefully share this knowledge with friends and family.

A successful transition towards the sustainable bioeconomy requires action from all parties, including producers, retailers and consumers. To ensure this, it is vital to increase public awareness about the environmental and socio-economic benefits of the bioeconomy, and ensure that knowledge is made available and relevant for producers, retailers and consumers.