“The recognition of our sector through the application of specific NACE codes is an important element as it would allow a better measurement in the statistical field and the possibility of addressing specific legislative measures, such as financing or the creation of specific EER codes”. To say this – in this exclusive interview with Il Bioeconomista – is Giulia Gregori, Strategic Planning and Corporate Communication manager at Novamont, the Italy-headquartered company which is leading the way in the world bioplastics sector.
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
The bioeconomy is a continuously growing sector. In the years of the pandemic it has proven to be resilient. Today, however, from a statistical point of view it is not yet recognized. How important is the possibility of having their own codes for the bio-based industry?
Specific codes for the biobased industries are fundamental to fully exploit the circular bioeconomy potential in terms of sustainable development, decarbonization and environmental protection. To provide an example, the bioeconomy sector could generate by-products that are similar to those produced by the agri-food sector, having qualitative characteristics suitable for further use in other supply chains, such as sludge for agricultural use. However, to date, these valuable resources cannot be exploited. The recognition of our sector through the application of specific NACE codes is an important element as it would allow a better measurement in the statistical field and the possibility of addressing specific legislative measures, such as financing or the creation of specific EER codes, dedicated to waste deriving from biodegradable and compostable plastic products, in order to facilitate their organic, mechanical and chemical recycling at the end of their life.
The SUP directive does not distinguish between single-use plastics and bioplastics. And it even favors materials whose origin is unknown rather than bioplastics. What can be the right compromise to protect the innovation and sustainability developed in recent years by Novamont and by the entire industry involved in this sector?
The Italian law could be a good compromise: it is consistent with the European framework but does not penalize innovation and the possibility of creating virtuous cycles in specific contexts.
Indeed, acknowledging the peculiarities of the Italian system related to the management and treatment of compostable bioplastics in connection with the collection of organic waste, the national law provides, in specific cases, for the use of compostable bioplastic alternatives with a renewable raw material content of 40% or more and, from 1 January 2024, of at least 60%. In fact, in Article 5 the transposition decree specifies the possibility to sell and use disposable products made of compostable bioplastic when the use of reusable alternatives is not possible or does not give guarantees from a hygienic-sanitary point of view; when the use is foreseen in controlled circuits (i.e. canteens); in circumstances where a large number of people are present; when reusable alternatives do not guarantee a lower environmental impact.
It is worth mentioning that using compostable bags for the organic waste collection have enabled Italy to be the highest ranking in Europe for food waste collection (47% of the total, against the European average of 16%) ; it has also led the organic waste fraction to grow from 2.5 million tons in 2007 to 7 million tons in 2020 with a greater amount of clean organic compost returned to our soil; the use of single-use carrier bags has also decreased in volume by more than 58% from 2009 to 2021.
We are facing an unprecedented energy and raw materials crisis, aggravated by the war in Ukraine. What role can the bioeconomy play, from your point of view, in this economic and political scenario?
The bioeconomy sector can boast biorefineries producing bioproducts and bioenergy and exploiting residues and by-products. The Italian and European Bio-based industry has already demonstrated its regenerative potential with tangible case studies of bioproducts dropped into new production and consumption systems as catalysts toward a new model that uses raw materials that are compatible with natural systems and reduces their quantity. I believe that in this context of extreme vulnerability for global balances, innovate and invest in the bio-based industry, to use fewer resources, to reduce our energy dependence and to regenerate our soils increasingly at risk, could be fundamental to Europe’s long-term autonomy and competitiveness.
What are Novamont’s growth plans for the next few years in Italy and around the world?
Replacing fossil Carbon with biogenic Carbon to obtain innovative products with the desired characteristics has represented and will continue to represent an unprecedented challenge not only in relation to innovation and technological development but also in maximising positive impacts (e.g. the social dimension) and reducing negative ones (e.g. GHG emissions linked to production processes). For this reason, Novamont commitment is constantly directed towards the exploration and implementation of ‘decoupled’ product supply chains because ‘how’ the product supply chain is developed plays a crucial role in the success in achieving the SDGs. Novamont is still working significantly in the diversification of raw materials from waste and by-products (multi-generation sugar projects; biomass from drycrops capable of regenerating marginal soils, chemical and mechanical recycling of bioplastics, etc.).