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Talk with the Expert: Dr. AMPARO LOPEZ RUBIO from CSIC

Interview with the expert: Dr. Amparo Lopez Rubio
from CSIC in Madrid - SPAIN
Thanks Dr. Lopez-Rubio for accepting the interview. You represent Public Research on new materials. How do we position bioplastics compared to traditional plastic ? Bioplastics represent a small market share, but they are expected to raise. In fact, they are a must if we want to palliate the tremendous environmental impact that the consumpion use of plastic represents nowadays. While it is clear bioplastics cannot substitute every plastic product, there are certain market niches where they could easily substitute synthetic plastics, like for instance for single use applications (food packaging).
About getting new materials on the market: what are the main barriers against bio-based packaging ? Many companies still favour conventional plastic. Yes they do ! The main obstacle is price. Plastics are cheap materials and, at the moment, the bioplastic price is still too high. Plastic lobbies are also claiming that recycling is the best managing option.
WELL, I disagree : the production of plastic has grown exponentially and today, only 9% is recycled. Inefficient recycling systems and the chemical compositions that make plastic unable to fully decompose represent A SERIOUS PROBLEM for our planet and our health. In fact plastics are not only cotaminating our oceans, but they have also been found in the stomach of animals and people. Another barrier is that many bioplastics are made with food resources and then, we could face a competing problem, as population is also growing and food resources are limited. Shoppers like me prefer bio, I can tell for sure. In your opinion, is it feasible to have bioplastics on the market ? How could we overcome the barriers you said before ?
In my opinion many things need to be changed to facilitate biopolymer penetration into the market. You see, Vicky, the recent COVID crisis has taught us that other ways of living and consuming are possible. Social awareness and education are key in this sense. For a sustainable way of consumption, we probably have to pay more and consume less products. This can make industrial activity viable while reducing the environmental impact (less production, less emissions, less consumption, less residues). Legislation also needs to be changed. A possible option could be to increase taxes for more contaminanting materials. This would decrease the cost difference between synthetic plastics and bio-based ones.
Regarding the bioplastic production, so that they do not compete with food sources, an option can be the use of wastes and residues. This would result in reduced material costs and valorisation of wastes, in line with current circular economy policies. However more research is needed. What is being done by Public Research in this sense? Does research have funds, or is it in competition with Industry - I mean private research oriented to profit ? Why not a collaboration ? So, from the research point of view we are trying to tackle all these main barriers that I said previously. First of all , we are for instance exploring simplifying extraction processes and considering new alternatives or waste streams to obtain biopolymers.
For example we have found a that a simplified processes can lead to less pure materials, which is many cases has additional functionalities and the performance is similar to the purified ones. These materials are very attractive for food packaging perspective. REGARDING SECOND QUESTION . We work closely with technological institutes and private companies, as we think this is the way of boosting development and taking them to the market. For instance, we are working with a sea weed company which produces agar for microbiological and food applications and we are using their residues to produce biodegradable food packaging materials. Finally, is there a message you want to leave ? FINAL MESSAGE Well, my message is that we all have to consume with more attention.
We need to become conscious that we have a connection with nature, we can all make a small contribution to improve the health of our planet and, thus, change our consumption behaviour. I hope to have convinced you that shifting to bioplastics is a good option.

In this interview you will have the great opportunity to listen to the expert opinion of Dr. Amparo Lopez Rubio, from CSIS (Superior Council for Scientific Investigations) in Madrid – SPAIN. She will answer questions from our Avatars on bioplastic, their use, their impact on the market and on our everyday life. She will also touch on topics related to green economy and recycling. Don’t miss this very instructive interview.

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Consumer and Environmental Safety: Food Packaging and Kitchenware

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