Social Innovation Management for Bioplastics

Food Systems Lab received a grant from the Trans-Atlantic Platform Social Innovation Call to lead a project titled Social Innovation Management for Bioplastics (SIMBIO). We are using a social innovation approach to address the environmental and social challenges of bioplastic packaging throughout its entire supply chain from production to end-of-life management in collaboration with researchers from Brazil, Poland, and the United Kingdom.

Bioplastic packaging made from bio-based polymers has a large potential impact on both food systems and waste management systems worldwide. As plastic pollution is a global problem, the solution needs to be developed with a global context and cannot be isolated to one region or country. This requires close collaboration of research team members on both sides of the Atlantic to work on a solution to bioplastics that is viable and scalable to multiple locales.

Through this project that will take place until spring 2022, we plan to explore the following research questions:

  • What are the social and environmental roles of bioplastic packaging in the global context of sustainable food production and consumption?
  • What is the current understanding of bioplastic packaging for food from the perspectives of consumers and businesses?
  • Under what circumstances is bioplastic packaging the best option for storing and transporting food?
  • What are alternative products with lower environmental footprints that can be used instead ofbioplastic packaging?
  • How does the resource extraction and industrial processing for producing bioplastic packagingaffect food security, the ecosystem, and the well-being of those impacted?
  • If the quantity of bioplastic packaging increases substantially, how will these products impact theformal and informal recycling, composting, and waste management sector?
  • If bioplastic packaging is the best option for certain scenarios, what are product design parameters,processes, policies, and supporting systems that need to be in place to manage a supply chain of these packaging materials that minimizes negative environmental and social impacts?

Building on our experience from running a food waste social innovation lab in Toronto, we will be using a similar methodology for this project.

So far, our team has conducted interviews with stakeholders throughout the supply chain who influence and/or are impacted by the production, use, and end-of-life management of bioplastic packaging, including those who are normally excluded from design and decision-making processes. These findings informed a webinar that took place in summer 2020. Workshops will commence in fall 2020.