As we were about to start our session, the teaching room, with about 25 students and few teachers, was filled with buzz of conversation where one could recognize three languages: English, Finnish and French. Due to a collaboration between Finnish and French high schools, there were now a French student group visiting the Jyväskylä Lyceum High School and they had the whole week full of learning and discussions about the topics of sustainability, especially sustainable food production. BLOOM was also invited to held one session about bio-based products, which we gladly agreed.
New and some traditional bio-based materials and products (mainly made out of wood) were introduced to the students as they explored the samples and presented questions very actively. As their main topic for the week was sustainable food production, the new packaging materials draw most of the interest. But despite the other topics, textiles and biocomposites, didn’t relate directly to food production, some of them dealt with circulation of food production side streams into new bio-based products. One great example of this is Pinatex that is leather made out of pineapple leaves, which are a major side stream of pineapple production. This is a great example of circular bioeconomy where otherwise useless bio-based material can be converted into new kind of high added value products.
The students saw many opportunities in bio-based materials, such as lower CO2 footprint, material and resource efficiency and that they might contain less harmful substances. What concerned them was that even though the renewable materials may be easily available, the prizes are still often much higher than those of traditional fossil-based materials. This is also a concern that people often come to us.
It is very often true that more sustainable materials are more expensive, especially when talking about new products that are entering the markets. One could think that shouldn’t this be the other way round? Yes, it should – if only there would be a carbon tax allocated for each product according to their CO2 footprint. But that isn’t a reality yet and it is a very complex issue as there is a lot of discussion, for example, about the accurate measuring methods.
So why are the bio-based options often more expensive than fossil-based? It is the law of demand and supply. As new products enter the markets, they don’t yet have many buyers as many aren’t aware of them. Thus, the prizes have to be higher so that it is profitable to produce these new products and keep them in the markets. As the new products become more popular, i.e. they get more buyers, and the production volumes increase, the prizes will usually come down.
At the moment, traditional materials control the markets because they have been used for decades. Production methods and machines support making the things the same way they’ve always been done and the highest demand in the shops are for products that people have gotten used to. Fossil-based materials, such as oil, have been used extensively as they have been well available and cheap. The new bio-based options are still in the margin, which often makes them more expensive. Consumers often have to ask themselves, are they willing to pay more in order to support the transition towards more sustainable society. Are you?
By choosing more sustainable materials when shopping, we as consumers can act to support the society to move to the path of sustainable development. And within our decisions, it’ll start effecting the industry eventually as the demand grows. But as the high school students also stated, the best way of making a difference is to carefully think: “Do I really need to buy this?”.
The next “Discuss about bio-based in schools” session will take place in 28.1.2020 at JAMK Bioeconomy Institute as local high school students from Saarijärvi and their international guests will visit the Bioeconomy campus.
Written by Aino Voutilainen from JAMK University of Applied Sciences