At the BDI, Prof Christine Lang calls for a circular economy
Berlin, 6 November 2020 – In order to protect biological resources for the long-term, and replace oil-based products with environmentally responsible alternatives, cooperation between policy-makers and the business community will have to be intensified. Prof Dr. Christine Lang, CSO of BELANO medical AG and former chairwoman of the Federal Government’s Bioeconomy Council, made this statement in an article for the Federation of German Industries (Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie, BDI). Using concrete examples, she outlines how society, manufacturing, and the political community may jointly drive the transformation towards greater sustainability.
This will include reliance on natural sources such as fungi. These could be used as
alternatives to polystyrenes in the manufacturing of packaging materials for food, takeaways, or delivery services. “Due to their densely matted cells, mushroom cultures are a strong and compact material which can fill almost any form and grow directly into the required end product”, Prof Lang writes. Containers manufactured this way can be sterilized. And, whereas conventional polystyrene is an oil product and non-biodegradable, the mycelium of a fungus could be used as an input for a new product after use. In addition, these were “truly degradable in the sense of a resource cycle”.
Food packaging could also be made from chitosan, a substance present in insects and crustaceans. Recent research has shown that it can be used to produce biodegradable multilayered sheets. “Its antimicrobial properties and great mechanical stability make chitosan suitable for high-quality packaging with a barrier functionality”, the article states.
Transparency for consumers: Showing the real costs for the environment
Nature knew many ways to achieve circularity and energy efficiency, Prof Lang writes. But what we needed to drive the ransformation towards greater sustainability were “political measures and increased transparency for consumers to better identify actual sustainability”.In this context, key aspects included “mapping a product’s realistically calculated CO2 footprint” and, by doing so, “demonstrating the true costs for the environment and human society”.
In many industries, there were first signs of this reorientation process. In the automotive industry, e.g., use of carbon parts “is a significant step towards a resource-efficient, i.e. extremely light-weight automotive chassis”. However, carbon fibers were still made from oil. As soon as possible, they should be manufactured using plant remains.
Suitable for this was the biological material lignin, a cheap and versatile alternative to carbon which could also be used in compound materials. Lignin confers stability to plants, allowing them to grow higher, is extremely resistant to both temperatures and tearing – but to date is merely paper production scrap.
Algae: A possible end to plastic sheets and plastic bottles
Alternatives are also explored for traditional retail. Conventional plastic packaging for
vegetables, fruit, and meat as well as disposable plastic to-go cups could soon be a thing of
the past. “Engineers and biologists collaborate to prepare algae as a source material for food
packaging”, is one example mentioned by Prof Lang. Here, algae are processed into thin foils
which are both robust and odor-neutral as well as taste-neutral, and can be eaten or
composted after use. “This could even spell the end for plastic water bottles – if this
development is pursued.”
But this could only be achieved if – in addition to consumers and the policymakers –
manufacturing did its part. Often, manufacturing bio-based source materials was still more
capital intensive today than manufacturing oil-based inputs. In order to develop, in the near
term, processes which were simultaneously resource-friendly and low-cost, we would need
both courage and industrial expertise. “Not until manufacturing, policymakers, and society
stakeholders take these steps together will environment, economy, and individuals benefit”,
she says in conclusion.
Christine Lang is a Professor of Microbiology at the Technical University (TU) of Berlin and,
since 2019, a member of BELANO medical AG’s managing board. She is also president of the
Association for General and Applied Microbiology (VAAM) and co-chairs the task group
Industrial Bioeconomy of the trade association “BIO Deutschland”, a part of the BDI. On the
BDI website, several expert articles are available under the heading “Circlenomics” which
present sustainable approaches to manufacturing and the use of waste as a resource to a
achieve a circular economy.
About BELANO medical AG:
BELANO medical AG is a biotechnology company which leverages the findings of its research into beneficial microorganisms for pharmaceutical and care products. The company develops and brings to market novel approaches to medical skin care, disease prevention, and the support of healing processes. In this way, new therapeutic options are created for diseases and indications which currently cannot be treated satisfactorily. BELANO’s mission is to make its patented agents and products available to everyone. To do so, the company relies on national and international collaboration with distributors and larger partners.