Sustainable solutions for bio-based plastics on land and sea

Specific Challenge:

Decoupling of plastics production from fossil feedstock is necessary. In addition to the recycled plastics waste, alternative feedstock such as biomass is part of a more resource-efficient, greenhouse gas emission (GHG) neutral solution. The shift towards biomass-sourced plastics will only make sense in the framework of a circular plastics economy where plastics reuse and recycling are maximised. Reuse and recycling of plastics, particularly for some applications such as packaging, remain very low. It has been estimated that globally, about 12 million tonnes of plastics waste per year leak out of the waste management systems and end up in the environment, in particular in the oceans, where it interferes with ecosystem processes and eventually enter the food-feed chain. As regards marine litter, while land-based sources are predominant as a result of land-sea interaction, sea-based sources such as shipping, fishing or aquaculture are also significant. As part of the mitigation efforts, biodegradable or compostable plastics for specific applications such as fishing gear could be a positive development if a clear sustainability framework for biodegradability conditions is provided.


Activities shall focus on sustainability strategies and solutions for bio-based products. They shall include innovative product design and business models facilitating efficient reuse and recycling strategies and solutions, including ensuring the safety of recycled materials when used for toys or packaging food stuffs. They shall address the technical and economic barriers to bio-based plastics recycling as regards established and/or alternative recycling options. The risk, impact and solutions to cross-contamination with conventional plastics waste streams or other contaminants shall also be addressed. Additionally, activities shall contribute to building a biodegradable plastics sustainability framework by mapping and focusing on the applications where biodegradable and compostable solutions could support public policies. Work on the biodegradable sustainability framework could include pre-normative research including field tests on land and at sea. Lastly, in line with the requirements of responsible research and innovation, activities shall support the development of international fora and platforms that would facilitate systemic innovation and uptake of results by enabling different actors of the value chains, from industry to civil society and public authorities, to cooperate towards more circularity in the bio-plastics economy. Activities shall build on the results and ongoing developments of EU projects funded under Framework Programmes FP7 and Horizon 2020 as well as on available and on-going standardisation results and activities including work within CEN TC 411 or under ISO. The interdisciplinary and cross-sectorial nature of the proposal should also apply to training activities improving the professional skills and competencies and supporting the creation of new jobs in the blue economy and in the bioeconomy.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU in the range of EUR 9 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed properly. Nonetheless, this does not preclude the submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Expected Impact:

Contributing to the implementation of the EU Bioeconomy Strategy, the EU Plastic Strategy, the EU Circular Economy action plan, the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the EU Maritime Spatial Planning Directive, the Energy Union’s vision for a low carbon, energy-efficient economy, the EU Blue Growth Strategy and the UN SDGs, activities shall:

  • In the short term:
  • Deliver solutions with work starting at technology readiness level (TRL) 5 and achieving TRL 6 or higher, where technological innovation is involved.
  • Deliver results in a form that allows for efficient feedback into policymaking in research, innovation and technology, in particular in the EU Plastic Strategy.
  • Prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution by 2025 (UN SDG 14).
  • Raise awareness and create a better framework for systemic innovation and uptake of results through broad stakeholder engagement.

In the medium term:

  • Demonstrate solutions and develop strategies for circular innovation of the whole bio-plastics system, building on a shared vision and enhancing cooperation between all stakeholders on land and at sea.
  • Contribute to the development of EU-harmonised criteria for biodegradability (in open-air and in oceanic conditions) and a sustainability framework that increase market transparency and improves waste management practices on land and sea.
  • Contribute to the assessment of the impact of plastics on terrestrial and aquatic flora and fauna and on human health.
  • Improve the professional skills and competences of those working and being trained to work within the blue economy and the bioeconomy.
  • Improve framework conditions and foster innovations that enable the plastics value chains to become more circular, resource-efficient and reduce their carbon and GHG footprint, in line with climate, energy and sustainable development goals (e.g. UN SDG 14).
  • Contribute to policymaking in research, innovation and technology.
Types of action: IA Innovation action
Planned opening date:
16 October 2018
Deadline: 23 January 2019

Source: Horizon 2020 – The European Commission