Biomass India Agreement
TOWARDS A CIRCULAR ECONOMY: FROM PADDY STRAW TO PAPER, PACKAGING, AND PANELS
AT A GLANCE
Under the banner of the Biomass India Agreement Dutch fibre-processing companies, together with Indian rice farmers and waste-processing companies, aim to use paddy straw as a raw material for new products to prevent it from being burned.
Paddy straw: you might have never heard of it before, but this by-product of rice production is often burnt after the harvest. Although burning paddy straw is illegal in India, it still happens on a large scale. The result is smog and air pollution.
But there is good news as well: 2019 research by MVO Nederland and the Dutch embassy in India, financed by RVO, shows that paddy straw makes a great resource for – among other things – sustainable paper, packaging and furniture panels. MVO Nederland brought together Dutch companies, multinationals and Indian partners that wanted to take on this challenge. In April 2019 they signed the Biomass India Agreement, setting out their ambition to market paddy straw products as soon as possible. An update.
Encouraging companies to use sustainable business models
Dutch and Indian companies have been using the technology to turn crop residues into packaging and other end-products. However, until recently there was a lack of collaboration within the production chain, wasting the potential of the widely available paddy straw. That is why MVO Nederland stepped in. By bringing Dutch and Indian companies and organisations together, an important step was taken towards a circular rice production chain. Maria van der Heijden, Director of MVO Nederland: “It’s amazing that we can encourage multinationals and SMEs to apply sustainable business models that help solve social challenges like air pollution and deforestation. It also shows how our network can accelerate the transition to a new economy.”
Getting ready for the next steps
Signing an agreement is one thing; translating its ambitions into concrete actions is another. Since April a number of important steps have been taken alongside work on a comprehensive business case, for which the panel manufacturer ECOR is currently conducting a feasibility study. MVO Nederland and Wageningen University & Research have successfully submitted a proposal for funding to the Top Sector Agri & Food in order to set up small-scale pre-pulp production. Getting the most out of the pulping process is crucial, as it will determine the price of the new raw material. This project will aim to investigate different approaches, develop evidence-based strategies and identify best practices, thereby paving the way for similar initiatives in other countries.
FRAMEWORK FOR A CIRCULAR CHAIN
The Biomass India Agreement serves as a framework for a well-organised and circular production chain. This requires, among other things, a cost-effective inflow of straw, high-quality production facilities in India, a well-developed market, a fair price for all parties involved, including the Indian farmers, and attention to sustainable production in the rice fields themselves.
Marten van den Berg, Netherlands Ambassador to India: “Thanks to the technology of ECOR, Bio4Pack and PaperWise, and to MVO Nederland matching them with Indian partners, we can set up a circular value chain. Public-private partnerships such as these are crucial in achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, to which both the Netherlands and India have committed themselves.”
HOW IT ALL STARTED
IIn 2017 Mike van den Hof, Business Developer at MVO Nederland, first set foot on Indian soil. His goal? To find circular opportunities for Dutch companies in India, on behalf of MVO Nederland and the Dutch embassy. Mike: “I was particularly fascinated by paddy straw. The smog that results from burning it is so bad that wearing gas masks has become normal.” Back home, with a heavy cough from the dirty air, Mike looked into the idea of using paddy straw for various products. “There’s unprecedented growth in population and prosperity in India. The need for materials, furniture and buildings is greater than can be produced or imported. By using paddy straw as a raw material we can not only address that issue but also generate extra income for farmers, reduce the amount of trees cut down for construction and reduce smog.” That Mike proposed a strong case was apparent from how quickly he found partners. “In addition, I’m in touch with multinationals like IKEA. It would be great if that led to a possibility of rapid upscaling.”
The ambition of the Biomass India Agreement is to make circular products, such as furniture panels, paper and packaging, that can compete with conventional products when it comes to quality and price. Price in particular is essential. Mike: “Without a competitive price, projects like these will stay elitist and marginal. That’s what we want to avoid.” Steps are being taken to have a fully operational business case in India in 2020. But not without a struggle: “To present a circular product for a competitive price, you have to mobilise the complete supply chain. From farmer to buyer. We still need more companies to join and adopt the circular economy concept in order to realise a fully operational small-scale processing plant. But I remain positive. We have set big goals. For example, by not burning their paddy straw, farmers will reduce CO2 emissions by 200,000 MT on a yearly basis. That’s equivalent to the annual emissions of about 70,000 cars! In the end, we aim to positively impact about 50,000 farmers’ households on a social, economic and environmental level.”
PaperWise specialises in making paper and cardboard from agricultural waste. Its motto is: nature knows no waste. Waste is useful in a new application. Agricultural waste, such as leaves and stems left after the harvest, are processed into raw materials for paper and cardboard. The company is excited to add paddy straw to its portfolio. Peter van Rosmalen, Director of PaperWise: “It’s amazing that we can now use our technology to process paddy straw in India. We’re grateful to MVO Nederland for introducing us to the right companies in India that will now also sign the agreement.”
Using only fibre, pressure, water and heat, ECOR can manufacture panels for interior design or construction material solutions. The panels can be made from cellulose fibres such as coffee grounds or hemp. Paddy straw is the next step. Giulia Viero, Project Specialist at ECOR: “In April 2019, ECOR together with MVO Nederland as well as other Indian and Dutch partners signed the Partnership Agreement for sustainable packaging in New Delhi, a milestone for creating circular value chains in India. Currently, we are in the middle of our feasibility study, the results of which we will share with the other companies in the consortium. Our ultimate goal is to build one or more ELFs in India with scalable social, economic and environmental impacts. This project aims not only at developing circular packaging and product solutions, but also at fostering responsible supply chain management, creating additional income for farmers as well as recycling nutrients and returning them to the fields.”
Bio4Pack is a specialist in the field of compostable, sustainable packaging. It has been actively involved in the development and production of environmentally friendly packaging for over ten years. Its guiding principle has always been to use as much renewable material as possible in its products. Under the banner of the Biomass India project, Bio4Pack has developed a complete packaging line of paddy straw fruit trays. Patrick Gerritsen, CEO of Bio4Pack: “Our paddy straw tray is absolutely the most sustainable packaging product there is. Currently, we are working on obtaining an EPD and introducing the product line all over Europe. MVO Nederland is very supportive in the process. Even though we are expected to work on the project independently, their encouragement really keeps us going. I definitely believe that together we will contribute to achieving a truly circular economy.”
ABOUT THE INDUS FORUM
The matchmaking between companies and organisations in the Biomass India project was facilitated by INDUS Forum, the Indian-Dutch Sustainability Forum. This is an online entrepreneurial network that fosters sustainable and inclusive innovations, and enhances futureproof trade relations among Indian and Dutch companies. INDUS helps community members to find matches for their challenges, connects them and, if needed, offers additional services to support them in creating new trade relations. It is the result of collaboration between MVO Nederland and the Dutch Embassy in India.