Open-Bio project commissioned by EU until 2016

Wageningen UR: ‘There are too many misconceptions about bio-based products’

By Jenny Eagle contact

- Last updated on GMT

Wageningen UR Open-Bio project EU bio-based products

Related tags: Biodegradation, Microbial biodegradation

Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research is investigating standards for biobased products as part of an Open-Bio project commissioned by the EU, which ends in October 2016. 

Open-Bio investigates how markets can be opened for bio-based products through standardization, labelling and procurement focusing on the sustainability of bio-based resources and potential testing methods. 

Ecolabel will boost market demand

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The end-of-life research will be expanded to different biodegradation scenarios, composting and recyclability and Open-Bio will investigate the needs of consumer groups and develop a system that can provide relevant information about bio-based products to make buying decisions easier for businesses, public procurement and private customers. 

Part of the project is to conceptualize an Ecolabel that can be applied to bio-based products to strengthen consumer confidence and boost market demand. 

Maarten van der Zee, senior scientist, project manager, Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research said there is some ambiguity concerning bio-based products, because they have different functional properties and end-of-life options from petroleum-based products. 

To develop and improve these standards, he said certain misconceptions have to be identified and eliminated to remove any barriers to introduce bio-based products on to the market. 

To refute these misconceptions Wageningen UR will explore what happens to bio-based or compostable packaging when it ends up in a sorting system. 

The research team will also work on improving the testing methods for determination of biodegradability in different (intended and unintended) end-of-life options such as anaerobic digestion, (home) composting and biodegradation in soil and the sea. 

Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research is deploying its knowledge and experience of bio-based products and its laboratory expertise to research quality requirements for functional properties such as resilience, flexibility, permeability, recyclability and degradability​,” said Van der Zee. 

All sorts of bio-based products are being developed at present: not only bio-based paint, adhesives and solvents, but bioplastics and bio-packaging, bio-based fertilisers and additives​. 

Defined standards are lacking for most of these new, bio-based product groups​.” 

Some standards are out-of-date

Karin Molenveld, researcher, Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research, added some standards, such as for insulation material, are out-of-date. 

The standard method for testing insulation values dates from the time when all the insulation materials on the market were manufactured from minerals or fossil-based resources, such as rock wool​,” said Molenveld. 

Many bio-based alternatives have functional properties that are just as good. But they do not emerge well from the standard functionality tests because their additional, beneficial properties, breathability and vapour permeability, are not included in the current standards​. 

Many companies are put off because of the limitations of the test results.​” 

Van der Zee said there are also misconceptions about the ‘end-of-life’ options for bio-based products, such as compostability, biodegradability, and recyclability. 

When a product is described as “compostable” people tend to assume it is also biodegradable in, say, a marine environment. But that is not always the case: The degradation process in the sea is totally different from the degradation process during composting or in soil,​” he added. 

Misconceptions create barriers for bio-based products

Van der Zee said these and other misconceptions are creating barriers for bio-based products. 

On the one hand, invalid assumptions are drawn from words such as ‘compostable’ and ‘biodegradable;’ on the other, businesses such as recycling industries that have to deal with end-of-life options are refusing to accept bio-based products​,” he said. 

Because the recycling plants do not know exactly where they stand, they are afraid that bio-based products will undermine the quality of the recycling stream​.” 

Open-Bio is the follow-up project to another FP7 (seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development) project called KBBPPS (Knowledge Based Bio-based Product's Pre-Standardization) and kicked off in November 2013. 

Open-Bio builds on the results of KBBPPS, refining them and developing further knowledge on implementation of the standardization result in relation to market development. Functionality testing will focus on the gaps identified by KBBPPS and on the special properties of bio-based products. 

LEI Wageningen UR is also researching consumer communication and social acceptance within the Open-Bio project; other research partners are concentrating on communication with the business community and government bodies. 

It wants to develop guidelines for labelling bio-based products and for the information accompanying bio-based products. The outcome of this research will deliver standards and policy lines at European level. 

Various institutes are collaborating on the project, including ECN, FBR and LEI in the Netherlands, CNRS (France), the Nova-Institut (Germany) and the universities of Athens, Berlin and York.  

Open-Bio hopes, with its partners, it will achieve harmonisation of testing methods and organize a number of workshops in the next few years.

Wageningen UR is an umbrella organisation that consists of Wageningen University and 10 specialised research institutes in The Netherlands. 

Source:​ Wageningen UR 

Publication:​ Open-Bio: EU-research into standards for biobased products 

Author(s):​ Maarten van der Zee; Christiaan Bolck; Karin Molenveld

FoodProductionDaily is organising a one hour debate with four guest speakers on Food Packaging Migration​ on March 13.

Migration of chemicals from packaging materials is a major concern for manufacturers, suppliers and the regulatory bodies responsible for consumer safety and health.

The extent to which a substance migrates depends on the chemical, the makeup of the material(s) from which it could be released and the food with which it comes into contact. Join us at 4pm CET to hear what our panel of experts have to say on the topic by registering here​.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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