The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is launching a Bioproduct Pilot Program as directed by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Through the program, the USDA will partner with at least one qualified institution to invest $10 million in the scale-up of sustainable bioproduct manufacturing. The program’s goal is to provide low-cost, more sustainable alternatives to conventional products. And the hope is that these products will spur economic growth in rural areas and provide farmers with another revenue stream.
In reviewing submissions, the USDA is considering the bioproduct’s impact related to:
- Cost savings relative to other commonly used alternative materials;
- Greenhouse gas emission reductions and other environmental benefits relative to their commonly used alternative materials;
- Lifecycle and longevity-extending characteristics relative to other commonly used alternative materials;
- Lifecycle and longevity-reducing characteristics relative to other commonly used alternative materials;
- Landfill quantity and waste management cost reductions;
- Product development and production scale-up; and
- Any other benefits that the Secretary determines to be appropriate.
I’ll admit I’m confused as to why we only look to fix our current environmental problems by recreating the wheel or turning back time. Plastic pollution is a huge issue, and discarded plastic products will sit in landfills forever because they don’t decompose. So the solution our society accepts is that we should just stop using plastic (goodbye, plastic straws!).
But that’s a pipe dream—consumers are used to buying things, like soaps, shampoos, and food, in plastic containers. That’s how our economy has developed. And despite years of complaining about it, there’s little progress (welcome back, plastic straws!). A few companies have found ways to reuse discarded plastic, we encourage recycling, and we’ve reduced our consumption on some items. But that isn’t putting a dent in the problem.
So why don’t we ever try something else?
What if we could use biological products, that will decompose over time, as an alternative to plastic? Corn plastic, which is biodegradable, was something companies were exploring ahead of the economic recession in 2008. We could swap out containers for things like soap, shampoo, and household cleaners with more environmentally friendly plant-based plastic. Widespread adoption would reduce plastic pollution and allow consumers to continue their shopping habits. You know, meeting people where they are.
So I’m interested to see whether this pilot program can spur such innovation. Yeah, I know, it’s the government and the chances of success might be low. But maybe this investment can at least serve as a foundation for future endeavors. Maybe it’ll inspire creative entrepreneurs to design more realistic solutions. Maybe society will stop spinning in circles to find the answers.
You can submit an application for the program here through August 31, 2022.