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  • Writer's pictureCecilia Wandiga

How Would You Like That Wrapped?: Multiple Perspectives on the Biomaterials Debate

Biomaterials started with quite a bit of controversy: there is a finite amount of land available, especially due to growth in human settlements. Do we grow food or do we grow industrial materials? There is also the ethical dilemma of market dynamics driven by the high price of industrial materials versus the need to ensure food remains affordable to everyone, most especially those living below $1 a day. In recent years, technological advances have led to new methods of biomaterial production that require less land: agricultural waste (using the waste from agroprocessing as industrial raw materials); nanomaterial (using biotechnology to develop edible composites and plastics from micro quantities of food such as mushrooms, potatoes, milk, and, fruit); agroforestry (addressing climate change by growing forests and learning how to farm in a forest - this way the same amount of land is used for both purposes). These advances are creating a new set of challenging choices: If we place tarriffs and import restrictions on agricultural products from foreign countries, do we do the same with biomaterial food packaging even when we have overwhelming evidence biomaterial packaging is better for the environment than petroleum based plastics? If we allow biomaterial food packaging then what is the justification for agricultural tarriffs and import barriers? Do we develop a biomaterials standard for food packaging in order to facilitate quality control and traceability across types of foods and various countries? OR, do we develop a set of biomaterials principles that enable a diverse plethora of innovation across types of foods, countries, and, regions? Do we maintain our current dependence on large scale production and supply chains? OR, do we switch to a global system that integrates small scale production and supply in a way that enables the most diverse multi-sourcing combinations possible? At CSTI we do not have the answers to these questions but we do know they need to be asked and invite collaborators who are interested in the same topics.  

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