The new bio-economy

19 February 2018

“Tell us what you need and we will make a sustainable version.”

This is Florian Graichen’s message to New Zealand’s horticultural industries.

Florian, science leader for biopolymers and chemicals, talks in the December 2017 issue of The Orchardist about the growing circular bioeconomy and the opportunities it offers New Zealand.

Circular bioeconomies focus on sustainable production, the use of renewable resources and using waste products as resources. The European bioeconomy is estimated to be worth 5.5 trillion NZD. Global companies such as Ikea, Lego, Ford, Toyota, Starbucks, McDonalds and Apple have all stated they want to use more biobased materials. This demand for new sustainable and renewable products creates huge opportunities for New Zealand.

New Zealand already has a bioeconomy, says Florian. “With a temperate climate, land, water, strong biological sciences, and a robust primary industry value chain we are set up to feed and fit into this new type of economy.”

One of the biggest challenges, and opportunities, is single use plastic packaging. Fit for purpose packaging is vital for New Zealand horticultural exports. Packaging has to protect fragile products, be strong but lightweight, provide product information about traceability and authenticity, and, increasingly, meet regulations and customer demands for sustainability.

Scion’s packaging programme focusses on using biomass/plastic composites that are repeatedly recyclable or biodegradable. The work is support by specialised assessments of packaging performance under stress and humid or cool store conditions, and compostability testing.

Integrating horticultural biomass into bioplastic composites has seen the development of several new products. Working Zespri and kiwifruit residues has resulted in a compostable spoon/knife (spife) that a consumer can discard with the kiwifruit skin. Biodegradable clips to secure the netting over ripening grapes is another example. The clips contain grape pomace, the residue that remains after pressing. When the nets are removed for harvest, the clips break, fall to the ground and biodegrade slowly.

“These are just two examples,” says Florian. “I believe that there are any number of single use plastics in horticulture that we could look at in the same way.  

“Tell us what you need in your operations and we can work together to replace oil-based plastics with biocomposites that use your byproducts and combine performance with sustainability.”

The Orchardist is published by Horticulture New Zealand for commercial fruit growers. It is the only monthly publication in New Zealand reaching all levy-paying fruit growers.

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