RETHINKING THE WAY TCLF PRODUCES AND CONSUMES. THE BIO-REFINERY CONCEPT

The sheer size of the Textile, Clothing, Leather, and Footwear (TCLF) industry is impressive and even more, its role plaid in our daily lives: besides providing cover and useful items for the quotidian, garment and textiles TCLF industry plays a vital role in culture, art and has an incredible impact on social subjects helping define who they are and aspire to be. Today, the TCLF industry is at a crossroads.

 

The problems to be solved are complex, systemic and of great consequence. From an ecological perspective, the textile industry is considered one of the most polluting industries in the world due to the use of harmful chemicals, high consumption of water and energy, generation of large quantities of solid and gaseous wastes, huge fuel consumption for transportation and use of non-biodegradable packaging materials (Choudhury, 2014); (https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/waste/resource-efficiency/textiles-in-europe-s-circular-economy).

TCLF is the fourth-worst-ranked pressure category for use of primary raw materials and water (after food, housing and transport). Most of the pressures and impacts related to the consumption of Textiles, Clothing, Leather, and Footwear in Europe occur in other regions of the world, where the majority of production takes place. This is the case for 85 % of the primary raw materials use, 92 % of the water use, 93 % of the land use and 76 % of the greenhouse gas emissions. Another major environmental challenge relates to the end of the product life cycle. Textile waste is a huge problem around the globe. The majority of textile waste still ends up being incinerated or landfilled.

Large amounts of used post-consumer clothing are exported from developed countries to developing countries, for example, from Europe to Africa. That creates a challenge for local textile production, which is not able to compete with the imported used textiles. That also shifts the textile waste problem from developed countries to developing countries, adding to their environmental and waste challenges. In March 2016, the governments of the East African Community, which includes Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, proposed a ban on imports of second-hand clothes to their regional trade bloc. While there are many traders earning a living through the sale of these donations, the governments proposing this ban argue that they will be able to create better jobs within the textile industry, more than offsetting any economic loss faced by the traders. Reducing the environmental and climate pressures and impacts from textiles production and consumption — while maintaining economic and social benefits — is at our rich but it will need a systemic deep game-change, rethinking the way TCLF industry produces and consumes.

 

Three key driving forces must be considered: 1. The TCLF industry must jump into the sustainable bio-economy era, which is by definition circular, circularity applied to a fossil-based production model is not the way forward; 2. Invest in research and process technology innovation based on the most advanced outreaches in environmental and industrial biotechnologies and primarily novel enzyme 3. Team up with the major developing and emerging economies which are an integral part of the value chain.

 

This is what the BioCRES project aims to do. BioCRES is a project concept designed by European Research labs and businesses, localised in Central European countries (Italy, Croatia, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Turkey), within the framework of Interreg Central Europe. BioCRES proposes to carry out an exemplary and highly transferable systemic action through the integrated use of Industrial biotechnologies, ICT (IA, IoT, Digital advanced communication), and Eco – Design as powerful drivers for new sustainable industrial ecosystems and fast job creation. BioCRES proposes to transform natural resource waste into entirely new bio-based products for the textile, packaging and nutraceutical markets destinated to new generation consumers in a virtuous loop with the social development of the communities.

BIOCRES-CONCEPT

BIOCRES-CONCEPT

The project endeavours to achieve this goal through the installation of a novel flexible small-scale biorefinery (combining enzyme with mild thermomechanical technologies) in pilot European rural areas as the driver of front-run innovation in circular bio-economy models with multiple effects on cross-connected industries (textile, speciality paper & packaging, nutraceutical industry ecosystems).

In particular, the multipurpose modular bio-refinery technology GINEXTRA®, already a European Registered Brand (EUIPO Registration Number 018019052), will enable integral and innovative fractionation process to produce good-quality cellulose, lignin and hemicellulose for established or newly emerging market applications.

 

The BioCREs project will install small biorefineries in the pilot territories to process plants and lignocellulosic waste deriving from the maintenance of natural ecosystems, fibre crops’ cultivation, and spontaneous vegetation. Local business ecosystems (bio-clusters) will emerge around the small-scale GINEXTRA® biorefineries. Such ecosystems will adhere to a social principle of sustainability which binds together aware citizenship, community identity and landscape preservation with a vibrant and fast-growing new circular bio-economy-based industry.

Forested rural areas are a valuable source of non-fossil raw materials

 

MAS-1151

 

Forested rural areas can be a driver of the European sustainable bioeconomy model if their valuable non-fossil raw materials can be used effectively

In the circular sustainable bioeconomy perspective, forested rural areas represent a precious source of the lignocellulose and non-fossil raw materials for established or newly emerging market applications. Within the European Green Deal we need to debate and share visions on how to tap the potential of forested rural areas as a driver of the European sustainable bio-economy.

We are at the dawn of a new techno-economic system. Nowadays, the main challenge is to carry out sustainable innovation processes in order to re-convert the production of manufacturing industries to be competitive while respecting the target of climate neutrality.

The incumbent climate crisis and dramatic impact of the pandemic, along with the extraordinary progress of green, environmental and white biotechnologies and digital communication, potentially pave the way to disruptive innovation for the sustainable growth dynamics of territories. The same concept of “rural” (being remote and under demographic decline) and “urbanization” (driver of innovation and progress) is going to change.

Proper policies, duly redesigned according to a systemic approach, could allow rural communities to start an extraordinary journey into a more sustainable and innovative future.

Cities face the risk of increased impact due to climate change, pollution and conflicts among societal groups. Conversely, rural areas, less densely populated and rich in cultural and natural heritage, could become highly attractive alternatives. These rural areas could provide healthier environments offering a more affordable lifestyle to (young) people looking for job opportunities.  Advanced manufacturing and service businesses, operating in the international markets, might thrive in these areas, given that suitable technological infrastructures are put in place.

Properly infrastructured rural areas, respecting the potential of natural ecosystems, could become highly attractive. The same concept of remoteness can change, as working remotely for a part of current duties of employees working in cities and offices is becoming more and more frequent. Also, electricity powered transport (such as short distance electric aircraft and drone technology) may provide new approaches to the transformation of peripheral conditions that ensure climate change neutralityMoreover, the most recent advancement in biorefinery technologies and digital technologies (IoT, IA, …) must be duly studied to identify the most appropriate applications that enable the decoupling of growth from the consumption of natural resources.

Present evolution in biocatalytic small-sized modular multipurpose biorefineries offer an attractive combination:

  • Robust research-driven cluster start-up connected to the biorefinery of lignocellulosic feedstocks and industrial valorisation of their outputs (natural primitive fibres, regenerated cellulose, lignin, hemicellulose and other biochemicals)
  • High quality of life and vibrant creative industries such as tourism and hospitality, visual and media industry.

Currently, forests in EU provide 3.5 million jobs (many more than the three heaviest and most energy-wasting industrial chains – steel, chemicals, cement). The sector includes 400,000 small and medium-sized enterprises and 16 million forest owners. Rural, Mountainous and remote areas constitute 80% of the EU territory.

These territories can provide sustainable leverage for the Green Deal, not merely because Europe must ensure cohesion, but because they are the major source of bio-based raw materials for a European autonomous capacity to inspire the bio-based industry of tomorrow. Forested rural areas must become the champions of the Green Deal Agenda and Next Generation EU if the Green Deal is to become a reality and not just a promise.

Forest policies as a vital component of the EU Green Deal

No doubt the EU Green Deal is the most courageous and  transformative European political initiative in recent decades. However, such great vision and ambition cannot be delivered without rethinking the way we produce and consume, including how we conceive territorial planning. Circularity applied to a fossil-based economy is not the way forward. We must jump into the sustainable bioeconomy era, which is usually circular from inception.

A starting point for incisive and transformative new policies must be the revision of data provision and accessibility.

Attention should be given to build accessible, integrated, multilevel databases, like the ones of Eurostat and FAO, that combine quantitative and qualitative data and ensure a detailed understanding of the very diverse typologies of rural territories with a new perspective. Data must be complete, updated and specific. For instance, they must include the extension of private and state-owned forests, the percentage of forests classified as protected zones and by different typologies, climate zones and plant species (including woody and non-woody species). We should design rigorous indicators to rate environmental, cultural and socio-economic values.  It is also necessary to estimate the potential of plant waste that could be harvested to maintain the landscape and prevent fires and hydrogeological disaster.

Policies aimed to build a circular bio-economy model must optimize the sustainable exploitation of European lignocellulose biomasses while enabling a viable upgrading of the social and economic livelihood in rural territories.

In the post-covid era, coexistence of ecological innovative industries with lifestyles that reinforce cultural values and traditions could become reality in precious and often unique rural ecosystems.

Culture and heritage protection and valorisation are the connecting values of the European communities and we must take into consideration how to bind together the need for transformation with historically resilient and sustainable settlement models. In the past the relationship between natural and anthropic landscapes with built environments has resulted in rural settlements that reinforced the sense of societal identity and fostered social cohesion. At the same time, the local building culture was naturally sustainable, since it utilized local natural resources and materials.

If disruptive changes are introduced early in the policymaking, the past will meet the future and generate potent alternative means of development in contrast to the consumeristic approach of present society.