Circular Bioeconomy: A Bet for the Environment that creates Opportunities?

It may sound as a catchy concept, but our lives and the world as we know it depend on we take circular bioeconomy seriously. The “business as usual” way to manage natural resources is not sustainable and the numbers show it: A 70% of the world population is affected one way or the other by inequalities; our planet is losing forests the size of football fields every six seconds; one third of farmlands around the globe are degraded1, and up to one million animal species are threatened by extinction2. Our prospects for survival are not looking very encouraging if we continue on this rate.

Such circumstances are making us question the current economic models, like linear economy (produce-use-dispose), and consider new alternatives. On one hand, bioeconomy bases its model on the use of biological resources (biomass) as an economic driving force3. On the other hand, circular economy is “the economic space where the value of products, materials and resources is maintained in the economy for as long as possible, and the generation of waste minimized4” through reuse, re-compost and upcycling5. The synergy of these two gives us the circular bioeconmy “…where biological resources are managed and used in a way that the value of the materials is maintained at the highest utility in the economy for as long as possible6”. With this in mind, how do we face our current global threats with the help of the circular bioeconomy?

On a climate change level, this model promotes the reduction in consumption of fossil fuels, the reuse of biomass and the use of renewable energies. From a land use perspective, this resource finds relief since the life cycle and value of products and biomass is being extended. Biodiversity is preserved given that the processes taking place to collect and produce biomass become more “sustainable and regenerative7”. Food waste decreases as production and consumption become smarter, in addition to residues and byproducts being recovered for the manufacturing of new products or giving them a new use. Scarcity of resources is avoided through the independence of fossil-fuel made or produced goods, and renewable-source resources is prioritized8.

Even though a number of circular bioeconomy advantages can be listed, there are still potential barriers to its implementation. The transition to this model requires financial and technological investment, which leaves a major question to industries, companies and small-sized entrepreneurs: how can we deal with such a challenge? Another aspect to be taken into consideration is that we need laws, guidelines and national strategies to define the goals and efforts that are to put into place an economic model that protects biological resources and that is sustainable at the same time. Furthermore, a change in consumer perception must happen, where consumers have been used to buy and use products and resources from fossil-fueled and non-renewable sources. These are valid points to be considered for this transition, and simultaneously, these challenging areas can find a suitable response when fostering the circular bioeconomy9.

Circular bioeconomy is growing and it is estimated that by the year 2030 this transition would become an opportunity worth USD $7.7 trillion because of sectors like the following: food and feed waste would increase from USD $2,300 to USD $2,600 billions; bioenergy and biofuels from USD $150 to USD $200 USD billions or pharmaceuticals that would see a growth from USD $250 to USD $750 USD billions. This change in paradigm brings as well job opportunities that translate to 30 million new job positions by 2030. Moreover, in order to implement the infrastructure needed for this economic model, an additional 117 million jobs have to be created10.

It is now the moment for a transformation in the world’s economies towards solutions that recognize how unsustainable linear models of production and use of resources are. The implementation of a circular bioeconomy is not an instant process nor it will solve environmental, economic and social problems that have taken hundreds of years to unfold. However, it is our safest bet to reverse the disastrous consequences that the threats currently faced by our planet pose. Of course, there are challenges that must be addressed during this transition, mainly perception issues, that can be changed with the alternatives proposed by the circular bioeconomy, of which we can foresee results in less than ten years.

1 Word Economic Forum. 2020. Why the world needs a ‘circular bioeconomy’ – for jobs, biodiversity and prosperity. Access on 01/25/2022
2 Palahí M., Pantsar M., Costanza, R., et al. 2020. Investing in Nature as the true engine of our economy: A 10-point Action Plan for a Circular Bioeconomy of Wellbeing. Knowledge to Action 02. European Forest Institute. p.20
3 BIOREGIO. 2021. Boosting Bio-based Circular Economy. p.3
4 European Commission. 2015. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Closing the loop – An EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy. 99a0-11e5-b3b7-01aa75ed71a1.0012.02/DOC_1&format=PDF. Access on 02/03/2021
5 World Business Council for Sustainable Development. 2021. CEO Guide to the Circular Bioeconomy. p.10
6 Ibid. BIOREGIO. 2021. p.3
7 Ibid. World Business Council for Sustainable Development. 2021. p.18
8 Id.
9 Ibid. Palahí M., Pantsar M., Costanza, R., et al. 2020. p.10-12
10 Ibid. World Economic Forum. 2020.