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Circular and Biobased Economy

What do we mean by a "circular" or a "biobased" economy? Why are these important and how do we get there?

The most pressing concern the world has today is how to adapt our way of life in order to prevent further damage to our environment. Predictions of a future changing climate have become real, and with new reports daily of vanishing ecosystems, wild weather, and polluted habitats, it is clear that immediate change is needed in order to preserve the Earth as we know it. The urgency of these problems is reflected in the UN’s Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals; 17 goals and 169 targets for countries to aim to achieve by 2030. These include increasing responsible consumption and production, producing affordable, clean energy, and sustainably managing life both on land and in the oceans.

Logos for the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Whilst lifestyle changes and reduction in consumption are both necessary to achieve a sustainable future, there are many other ways in which this isn’t practical; it will be impossible to eliminate all plastic, chemicals, or fuel, for example. Therefore, we need new ways of creating and interacting with products to ensure that we use the Earth’s resources responsibly. Two established approaches of doing just that are “circular” and “biobased” economies.

A circular economy aims to eliminate all waste by ensuring that all resources used in the manufacturing of a product are reused or recycled. Practically this means any waste formed as a by-product whilst creating one desired product should be used to make another, and crucially that at the design stage of a product, a plan is already in place for how to reuse or recycle into something new when the product is no longer useful.

A biobased economy aims to recreate many of the products we use today only using renewable organic matter (biomass). Biochemical research has shown that it is possible to create fuels, chemicals, plastics and more using biomass rather than fossil fuels. Not only are these created from renewable raw materials, but also can be manufactured to be biodegradable after use, and often require manufacturing techniques that avoid toxic chemicals.

There is great interest in creating a combined circular and biobased economy, and there are some excellent examples of how to introduce more biobased products to the market, with better utilization of resourses. Despite this, more research is needed to be able to use circular, biobased production in the majority of manufacturing, across such disparate fields as technology, economics, political science, social science, and psychology. We need to research how to make these products economically viable and attractive to consumers, as well as the more traditional biochemistry involved in creating them in the first place. LUBIRC aims to promote both circular and biobased economies by connecting researchers from around Lund University working on various aspects of biobased industry and communicating with industrial partners.

Cycle of an ideal circular and biobased economy

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