Bioeconomy Strategy aims to make UK world-leader by 2030

The UK Government has released its Bioeconomy Strategy, which outlines how the UK can build a world-class bioeconomy by 2030 and lead the way in easing the reliance on fossil resources.

Released on Wednesday (5 December), the new strategy, ‘Growing the bioeconomy: Improving lives and strengthening our economy’, was compiled jointly by government and industry and seeks to maximise the value of the bioeconomy in the UK – estimated to be worth £220 billion to the economy and contribute over five million jobs – and to respond to global challenges with bio-based solutions.

The strategy’s vision is that by 2030: ‘The UK is a global leader in developing, manufacturing, using and exporting bio-based solutions. Our thriving bioeconomy is an inviting and vibrant place to invest and do business, supporting innovation and stimulating economic growth. Sectors within the bioeconomy command trust, improve lives, strengthen the UK economy and move the UK towards a low carbon future.’Bioeconomy Strategy aims to make UK world-leader by 2030

The strategy follows the government’s Clean Growth Strategy and Industrial Strategy in plotting a sustainable future for the UK economy through exploiting the opportunities provided by the bioeconomy. This includes: creating new forms of clean energy; producing smarter, cheaper materials such as bio-based plastics as part of a more circular, low-carbon economy; and reducing plastic waste and pollution through the development of new environmentally sustainable plastics, such as bio-based and biodegradable packaging and bags.

In the document the government outlines its aim to create a supportive environment that would see the value of the bioeconomy in the UK double from £220 billion to £440 billion by 2030.

The strategy sets out four strategic goals to pursue. These are:

  • Capitalise on our world-class research, development and innovation to grow the bioeconomy;
  • Maximise productivity and potential from existing UK bioeconomy assets;
  • Deliver real, measurable benefits for the UK economy; and
  • Create the right societal and market conditions to allow innovative bio-based products and services to thrive.

In order to achieve the strategy’s stated goals, the government will seek to bring stakeholders together to work in a coordinated, cross-sector manner, with policy, regulations and guidance from government creating an environment conducive to overcoming barriers and creating the right market conditions for growth.

Continued support from the UK’s research councils – under the umbrella of UK Research and Innovation, which brings together the seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England – innovation bodies and the private sector will be required to attract new funding for innovation and development.

Funding has already been provided by the government through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund as part of an additional £4.7 billion of research funding to be made available over the next four years, including £60 million to develop smart sustainable plastic packaging, in a bid to move towards a more circular economy.

This investment in packaging shows the government’s continued drive to tackle the UK’s plastic problem. Actions have included the introduction of a tax on the manufacture and import of plastic packaging containing less than 30 per cent recycled plastic by April 2022, a ban on microbeads in wash-off cosmetics products, a £61-million fund to help Commonwealth states to tackle marine plastic pollution and a £20-million fund for plastics research and innovation to develop cutting-edge and circular approaches to plastics manufacturing in the UK. Environment Secretary Michael Gove also confirmed in April that England would be introducing a deposit return scheme for beverage containers by 2020.

Businesses have also shown themselves committed to tackling the country’s plastics waste problem, with more than 42 businesses including Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Coca-Cola European Partners signing up to the UK Plastics Pact, committing themselves to eliminating ‘unnecessary’ single-use plastic packaging by 2025.

The Bioeconomy Strategy also contains a commitment to education and training, with £406 million being put into STEM subjects to develop the next generation of bioeconomy technicians, as well as the creation of a National Retraining Scheme.

In terms of waste and resources, the strategy indicates that more emphasis will be put on reducing the use of virgin materials and feedstocks, and promoting the use of secondary materials and waste to produce materials, chemicals, fuels and energy that will help drive a low-carbon economy.

However, the document contains little actual policy regarding waste and resources and states that more detail will be provided in the upcoming Resources and Waste Strategy. This lack of hard policy has left some disappointed, with Charlotte Morton, Chief Executive of the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA), decrying the lack of actionable policies in the document, especially on food waste.

She said: “While it is encouraging to see ministers recognising the huge value that the bioeconomy can deliver to the UK, it’s disappointing that this strategy, which has been two years in the making, contains no new policies or funding that will help to actually achieve the important aims that the strategy sets out.

“The strategy rightly identifies that we need to make better use of unavoidable wastes by converting them into low-carbon, high-value resources – and converting organic wastes into renewable energy and natural fertiliser through anaerobic digestion (AD) is a perfect example of this.

“But it will be impossible for the AD industry to do this to its full potential without concrete action from government to support the separation and processing of these waste feedstocks. One obvious example is inedible food waste: we are still awaiting the long-overdue Resources and Waste Strategy, which – if the government is seriously committed to the bioeconomy – must include a commitment to universal separate food waste collections.”

You can view the Bioeconomy Strategy in full on the UK Government website.

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