The Bioeconomy

Sustainability, the Bioeconomy and the Circular Economy

To build a future where people, nature, and the economy can all thrive we will need to make changes to the way we interact with our resources. Sourcing materials responsibly to protect the ecosystems we rely on is critical, and using those materials more than once means we can do more while demanding less.

While the ultimate goal is a sustainable future, responsible sourcing and adopting circular systems are powerful tools to help us achieve this goal. The circular economy is an economy which is restorative by design - where material flows are captured and re-used, and biological flows are designer to re-enter and replenish nature safely. The bioeconomy is an essential part of the circular economy, the "biosphere" side of its function. We cannot realize the circular economy without the bioeconomy, because it is impossible to sustain an economy without any new resources being added. This is especially true when the population continues to increase.
We can realize an economy which is much more circular than today, where the vast majority of products and materials that we use are recovered and recycled to make new goods. These recycled and reused materials will then be part of a cascading-value system, where materials are recycled multiple times until they are too degraded to make new materials. Some materials, like aluminum and glass, are infinitely recyclable with no degradation. However, because most materials degrade, we will still need sources of new material.

In this context, we can more readily see the value of the bioeconomy. Developing products and materials that are sourced from responsible renewable materials means that we will be able to maintain the
circular economy without relying heavily on the extraction of finite resources, while minimizing the impacts of growing renewable materials. The bioeconomy and by extension, biobased materials, fill a need of the circular economy: to replenish a small but vital amount of resources that cannot be re-circulated sustainably.

How the Bioeconomy Works

A bioeconomy is an economy where the materials we need come from renewable, biomass sources. Feedstocks are collected and converted into the things we need and use in our daily lives – like textiles, sports equipment, packaging, automotive parts and more.

Growing a bioeconomy that is both environmentally and socially responsible is a key step towards building sustainable future.

Did you know?

Provides environmental benefits with minimal environmental impacts

Land Use

With the Increased pressure on land predicted as a growing population demands more, it is more important than ever to use arable land efficiently and make thoughtful choices about what we grow where.

There is serious concern that we will not have enough arable land to meet everyone’s needs. This makes it critical that all land use, regardless of scale, is responsible.


13 billion hectares = 100%


4.8 billion hectares = 37%


3.3 billion hectares = 68%

Arable Land

1.4 billion hectares = 29%

Food & Feed

1.24 billion hectares = 26%

Material Use

106 million hectares = 2%

2019: 0.79 million hectares = 0.016%
2024: 1 million hectares = 0.021%


53 million hectares = 1%

Responsible Sourcing

There are many factors that contribute to the performance of a feedstock. Agricultural systems are both complex and diverse, and their interconnectedness with local economies adds another layer of complexity.

Therefore, it is important to take a holistic view of feedstock cultivation, including tradeoffs between environmental, social, and economic factors. The BFA have set criteria for what an ideal bioplastic would accomplish, in order to help put these impacts in perspective.


BFA focuses on plastics made from biomass, these are called biobased plastics.

This usually means they are made from plants, but other biomass, like waste, can also be used.

Biobased plastics have all the valuable properties of conventional plastics, but are made from renewable resources. Because the structure of a biobased plastic is either identical or very similar to a conventional plastic, it's not usually possible to identify a biobased plastic by sight.

Biobased plastics offer potential benefits over traditional plastics made from fossil fuels because they are sourced from renewable materials.

Biobased does not mean biodegradable. It is the chemical structure of the plastic, and not the origin of the material that it is made from, that determines whether a material is biodegradable, compostable, or neither. Both conventional and biobased plastics can be made to be biodegradable or compostable through alteration of their properties on the chemical level. BFA believes that no plastic belongs in nature and that compostability and biodegradability are only valuable where the proper infrastructure as well as sufficient collection and recovery can ensure these materials remain in the global material management system, for example, through industrial composting or anaerobic digestion.

The food chain

Nutrient cycles

Greenhouse gases

Water use and quality


Soil fertility


Rights and entitlement


Livelihoods and income

Food security
Feed Manufacturers
Strategies that reduce demand for bioplastic feedstock when commodity prices are higher could contribute to food security. When commodities are in abundant supply, feedstocks can be produced with less impact on prices.
Nearly all food and many other renewable resources (such as wool and cotton) is produced by farmers. Policies and subsidies can be harnessed to encourage optimum outcomes for the environment, food security and the sustainability of non-food crops.
Manufacturers & Processor
Product and packaging design and recovery can contribute to circular resource flows. Eliminating the waste of bioplastics would reduce demand on land to produce new resources.
Wholesale Markets
The adoption of high sustainability standards by wholesalers could help achieve sustainability and protect food security through ensuring that social and environmental questions are being managed across supply chains.
Working with brands, sales outlets can adopt strategies to protect food security through sustainable, renewable and circular resource flows.
We all help determine outcomes for food security, including for example through the resource choices we make. Recycling bioplastics means less land and water being needed to make new one.

Food security

Food security is a complex issue that goes beyond “food vs. fuel”

Building healthy and resilient food systems can help people be more food secure, this means understanding the many factors that contribute to food insecurity


Land, Finance, Seed, Agrochemicals, Technical, Labour, Equipment, Credit

Enabling Conditions

Trade regulations, Policy, Transport infrastructure, Subsidies, Business rules, Insurance


Bioplastic feedstocks are generally divided into first generation (traditional agricultural crops), second generation (cellulosic crops as well as residue and waste products), and third generation (non-traditional organisms like algae). However it is the feedstock's impacts on our planet and its people that matter, not its "generation" classification. BFA is feedstock and technology neutral, but has set criteria for evaluating the environmental and social impacts of feedstocks.
A Note on Waste Residue:
Utilizing agriculture and forest residues, which are by-products of existing production, offers a potential opportunity to reduce the environmental and social impacts of bioplastic production. However, in using waste residue there must be assurance that the waste is truly waste, and not being displaced from another use. (The BFA recommends the RSB methodology for determining wastes and residue, Advanced Products Standard).

588  Hectares of Castor Oil

100 tons of Biopolyamide

11 million lightweight
windbreaker jackets

34 Hectares of Corn

100 tons of Polylactic Acid

29 million yogurt cups

Different crops use different amounts of land
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