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Post-corona: What would the bio-based industry look like?

“The current situation provides an opportunity to re-evaluate practices and may accelerate positive changes that have already been in motion.”

2020 seemed to be on a roll until Covid-19 appeared out of nowhere, caused devastation and continues to wreak havoc across the globe. The coronavirus pandemic is affecting the whole world, companies and societies. It is forcing the global community to confront questions about how we live and about mortality. It is also forcing some people to think about the environment.

It is too early to say what long-term impacts the crisis will have on the bio-based industry. However, already we speak of “PC” and “AC”: pre-corona and after corona. We don’t know yet what the new political consensus will be or if this crisis will change the sector as other challenges have. But it feels as if we are moving into something new, strange and different.

Here, Liz Gyekye takes a hypothetical look at what the bio-based industry might look like post corona.

1)  Companies and brands will continue to develop product lines using recycled and biodegradable materials to address plastic waste, waste in general, and the call for a more circular economy. A number of big and small to-medium-sized businesses have committed to using recycled or sustainably-sourced materials by a specific time frame. Several firms set these targets a few years ago. 2020 and 2030 seem to be hot deadlines to meet these goals. For instance, outdoor lifestyle brand Timberland has pledged to increase the use of recycled and renewable materials used in its boots and shoes by the end of this year. Consumer goods giant P&G has 2030 goals to ensure that “100% of its packaging will be recyclable or reusable”. Fashion chain H&M has also got plans to meet sustainability 2030 goals.

The size of these big brands and their long-term approach mean that that they are more likely to support innovative sustainable solutions, including the development of new bioplastics and textile fibres.

It will be difficult for brands such as these to renege on these pledges, as their customers will be keeping a close eye on them.

2) Nevertheless, the global economy faces an uncertain future. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has recently released a bleak global economic outlook. Global production is predicted to fall. The global economy is expected to shrink by 3.0% during 2020 in a stunning coronavirus-driven collapse of activity that will mark the steepest downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s, according to the IMF (@IMFNews).

This news would suggest that tough times lay ahead as more and more people lose their jobs, especially for employees working for small to medium-sized businesses.

Separately, there could be a period after lockdowns are loosened where consumers go on a spending spree to celebrate. Yet, this celebration may be short lived as consumers decide to tighten their wallets during the rest of the year. This will result in consumers buying less products, potentially less bio-based ones.

In relation to textiles, Lord Simon Wolfson, chief executive of fashion retailer Next (@Nextofficial), said: “’People do not buy a new outfit to stay at home.”

Nevertheless, the food and drink industry is one area which is booming as more people stay at home due to workplaces, schools and restaurants remaining shut. This could provide an opportunity for bio-based packaging, including compostable packaging and biodegradable packaging.

It remains to be seen how long it will take the world’s economy to bounce back from this crisis. Yet, a number of government interventions have taken place to quickly facilitate the process.

3) Brands may refocus priorities and start to cut costs rather than focus on the environment.

Essentially, production has closed down in most places. With revenue plummeting at every level of the supply chain, brands and suppliers might be forced to focus on paying bills rather than making investments. Workers are losing their jobs and it’s unclear if brands that have been exploring major changes to make their businesses more sustainable will put them on the backburner, whether to protect profits or to simply keep the lights on.

It’s too early to know.

4) Opportunity knocks.  Food supply fears have led to more people growing their own fruit and vegetables. The UK’s Royal Horticultural Society (@The_RHS) has seen a spike in inquiries about growing vegetables in containers, composting and lawns.  According to the organisation, a third of a million Britons have visited the RHS website for advice, with the biggest rise in interest seen for potatoes, tomatoes and strawberries.

Visits to the pages on how to compost were up nearly 500% on the previous year during the first nine days of lockdown. If I had a ‘back-of-the-envelope’ look at this, I could predict that this new hobby could lead to more and more people buying biopesticides to help their vegetables grow, as more and more people question where their food comes from and what is put in it.

Elsewhere, anecdotal evidence suggests that more people are buying plastic bottles as they are staying at home more. At the start of the lockdowns, there were also a lot more shoppers panic buying. More people are also ordering online which suggests more cardboard packaging being used. This could result in more recyclable material available to be turned into new products.

Separately, a new study by Carbon Brief (@carbonbrief) has found that coronavirus could trigger ‘largest ever annual fall in CO2’. You can’t fail to notice in cities that the air is cleaner and fresher. Appreciation for nature could be a new trend, which implies that people could start taking climate change more seriously.

5) Green legislation is still in place. The European Union’s Green Deal was unveiled late last year. It aims to transform the 27-country bloc from a high- to a low-carbon economy, without reducing prosperity and while improving people’s quality of life, through cleaner air and water, better health and a thriving natural world.

Under the European Commission’s new circular economy plan, the EU executive will develop requirements to ensure that all packaging in the EU market is reusable or recyclable in an economically viable manner by 2030, will develop a regulatory framework for biodegradable and bio-based plastics, and will implement measures on single-use plastics.

In addition to this, earlier this week, an EU sustainability alliance was formed to call on the bloc to make the post-corona recovery a “green” one. The group is made up of politicians, business leaders, MEPs and environmental activists.

“Projects such as the European Green Deal, and other national zero carbon development plans have a huge potential to build back our economy and contribute to creating a new prosperity model. We therefore consider that we need to prepare Europe for the future, and design recovery plans, both at the local, national and at the EU level, enshrining the fight against climate change as the core of the economic strategy,”reads the letter, which was led by the initiative of Pascal Canfin (@pcanfin), a liberal French MEP who chairs the European Parliament’s committee on environment.

He adds:”Covid-19 will not make climate change and nature degradation go away [and] we will not win the fight against Covid-19 without a solid economic response. Let’s not oppose those two battles, but let’s fight and win them at the same time. By doing so, we will only be stronger together.”

In relation to investment, many governments have devoted huge amounts of their GDP to help towards tackling Covid-19. It just goes to show how much we can do as a global community when we feel threatened. Why can’t the same devotion be shown to tackling climate change?

Overall, it is impossible to guess what the future will bring. But, as a Fashion for Good ,spokesman told Bio Market Insights last month: “We do see promising signs indicating a more structural shift in thinking. The current situation provides an opportunity to re-evaluate practices and may accelerate positive changes that have already been in motion i.e. logistics and transportation.

Increasingly more industry leaders recognise the urgent need for responsible practices, as demanded by consumers and investors and as regulatory pressure grows. For many pioneering brands, investments in sustainability and innovation are of high strategic importance and therefore budget cuts could negatively affect financial performance in the future.”

Bio Market Insights has set up a special coronavirus page on its site to highlight the great work being done by the bio-based sector. Please be sure to check it out. How is covid-19 impacting on you? Please let me know and contact me on

If you were interested in this story, you may also be interested in the ones below.

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Read: Coronavirus is not yet impacting Avantium’s business, but firm is monitoring the situation closely

Read: Bio-based sector sees mixed coronavirus impact

Read: Starbucks temporarily bans reusable cups over coronavirus concerns

Read: Starbucks unveils trials for compostable cups

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