Thanks to global trade, Western societies are not only wealthy but have also access to diverse products. From diapers for our babies or diesel for our cars to the dressing for our salad – the movement of goods in a globalized world allows us to have products for consumption that would otherwise not be available. These can often be everyday products and items taken for granted, so that we don’t necessarily even think of their origins. For example, a typical home would have wooden furniture like tables or shelves. They, or parts of them, could come from wood harvested in Central Africa. Or a common meal could consist of pork meat, where the pork was fed with soymeal processed from soybeans grown in Brazil. Unfortunately, the farming or harvesting of many goods – especially those of biomass like wood or soy – can have negative impacts on the biodiversity of ecosystems, including our forests. As such, the wooden furniture we buy or the pork we eat could be associated with biodiversity loss. In other words, trade becomes the mechanism that links our consumption habits to environmental damage abroad. But, how could we benefit from trade and conserve biodiversity at the same time?
Through human history, forests have provided a great variety of natural resources such as woods, nuts, and fruits. While we have gotten accustomed to these conventional resources, the current environmental crisis has pushed interdisciplinary research to innovate with bio-based materials as an effort to contribute to a bio-based economy.
For the past decade, a great variety of bio-based materials have been developed to replace synthetic packaging, structural materials, leather, and other fossil fuel dependent materials. Many of these are made of agricultural waste such as corn starch, leaves from different plants, coffee waste, and a large etcetera. Moreover, other bio-based materials are developed by harnessing living systems such as mycelium (the root of fungi), algae, and bacteria. This relatively new practical approach (in material design) is called Biodesign.
New EFI study assesses the scientific evidence
by Rach Colling
The bioeconomy has mobilised significant investments in technology, research and innovation. New and innovative bio-products and related services have emerged, and related niche markets show dynamic growth. The future of the bioeconomy, however, raises questions relating to its development potential, but also its sustainability.
The science-based study Towards a sustainable European forest-based bioeconomy – assessment and the way forward provides a synthesis of existing knowledge for policymakers on the importance of forests and the forest-based sector in contributing to the future European bioeconomy. It assesses the economic, social and environmental sustainability of a forest-based bioeconomy, and looks at issues that may affect its development.