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Moving to a circular bioeconomy – Expert Reaction

How can we reduce waste and pollution, and regenerate natural environments, while still keeping our economy running?

Today Scion hosted a symposium on the challenges and innovations required for a transition to a circular bioeconomy in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the idea of a circular bioeconomy. 

Dr Florian Graichen, General Manager – Forests to Biobased Products, Scion, comments:

“Climate change is the challenge of our generation. It is a global disruptor – economically, environmentally and socially.

“But climate change is also the opportunity of our generation. Continents, countries and companies that are willing to embrace the opportunities that climate change presents by becoming less reliant on fossil fuels are likely to become the disruptors rather than be subject to disruption and uncertainty.

“The world is moving towards a population of 10 billion people – 10 billion people that require food, clothing, housing…everything we are using today but in the future we will need to source from sustainable – not fossil – feedstock.

“And here is New Zealand’s opportunity. We are world class in growing and producing renewable feedstock in a sustainable way; we have the land, climate and we are already a bioeconomy. But instead of continuing to push high volume, single market, low-value products we need to realise the benefits of replacing traditional linear economic models with more circular thinking. This includes the creation of biorefineries to create new value and products from our renewable biomass – think waste from forests, woody debris and tree bark. In the circular bioeconomy, there is no such thing as waste – it simply becomes feedstock for other products while supporting economic growth and new high-value manufacturing sectors. Importantly, the new products will help to replace those made from fossil fuels.

“It’s a combination of replacing energy, plastics and other fossil-heavy materials with lower-carbon alternatives, managing natural resources such as forests sustainably and re-thinking economic outcomes in terms other than just financial.

“Grinding the economy to a halt to stop or mitigate climate change is not feasible. Sustainability includes multiple dimensions. We must address social, environmental and economic sustainability at the same time while operating within our planet’s boundaries. Transitioning to a circular economy enables us to achieve sustainable wellbeing in harmony with nature.”

Conflict of interest statement: Dr Graichen is speaking at the Scion symposium on transitioning to a circular bioeconomy.

Dr Nigel Bradly, Chief Executive Officer, Envirostrat; and Project Lead for the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge, comments:

“Building Aotearoa New Zealand’s circular marine bioeconomy is an exciting opportunity to leverage the country’s abundant marine resources for sustainable economic growth. We’ve always had a strong marine bioeconomy. The fishery and aquaculture sectors have been at the fore. However, opportunities coming from a circular bioeconomy need a different approach compared to these traditional sectors. We need to design and create businesses/sectors that reuse or remove waste, are carbon positive, and have positive environmental and social benefits for the communities they are in.

“One focus area in Aotearoa is the emerging seaweed sector. The sector has the potential to develop high value, zero waste, carbon positive products for domestic and export markets. Seaweed products can be used in many ways. For example, agriculture, human health and beauty, food, plastics replacements, methane reduction, and cleaning water (through bioremediation). Aotearoa has an opportunity to create a sector with technology-led value extraction from native seaweed species, delivered by brands with high social and environmental licence. Luckily, we now have a Seaweed Sector Framework for Aotearoa to help us achieve this.

“An example of an exciting marine circular bioeconomy business is Aqua Curo, leaders in using macroalgae to bioremediate wastewater. Aqua Curo has piloted an approach that cleans dirty wastewater from a treatment plant, by growing macroalgae in open-air raceways. As the macroalgae grows, it cleans the water. Aqua Curo harvests and transforms macroalgae into products like alternative fertilisers.

“Another example is Urchinomics, who remove kina/sea urchins from ‘barrens’ where they are killing kelp forests. This is a problem in Aotearoa and around the world. Harvested urchins are taken to a land-based ‘ranching’ system and fed a special diet to improve their condition. The kina roe is extracted from the urchins and sold into the Japanese restaurant market, where it is highly sought after. Profits can then be reinvested into restoring kelp forests (which has multiple environmental and economic benefits).”

Conflict of interest statement: “I own a consulting firm which provides advisory services for marine circular economy and other businesses. I also own two businesses operating in the marine circular bioeconomy.”