The interface between academia and industry is blurred. However, it is indisputable that collaborative behaviours are gaining momentum and that organisations external to the university are playing a growing role in shaping academic research and in boosting societal changes.
Against this background, several initiatives and policy instruments are being implemented with the aim of ensuring a better governance of such relationship, at national and supranational levels. Among these, COST Actions aim at establishing a bridge between science, policy makers and society on very specific themes/topics, through the establishment of heterogeneous and dedicated research networks.
In this context, the EUBIS Action established itself as a very effective collaborative network of researchers and industrial partners at the interface of chemistry, biology, biotechnology, food technology, engineering and economics, aiming to develop the use of food supply chain waste for biochemicals, biomaterials and biofuels. Indeed, by making academic research relevant to, and accessible by industry and policy makers, EUBIS Action has increased the effectiveness of collaborative research as a source of innovation and radical societal changes.
The policy landscape of the EU BIS Action is ample, going from the supranational to the local context. At the international level, it is very much anchored into the Sustainable Food Systems (SFS) Programme, launched in October 2015 and adopted by the FAO and the UN, which is a global multi-stakeholder partnership, aiming to promote sustainability all along the food value chain, from farm to fork. At the EU level, the new Circular Economy Action Plan adopted by the European Commission (and released in December 2015) contains much encouragement for generating value from FSCWs. The Action Plan supports the achievement of the related UN Sustainable Development Goals, designating ‘food waste’ as a Priority area, where the main target is taking measures to clarify pertinent EU legislation landscape (waste, food and feed legislation) facilitating food donation and the use of by-products and food waste in food and feed applications. Another priority area was ‘biomass and bio-based products’, where the EC aims to promote efficient use of bio-based resources via guidance and dissemination of best practices on cascading use of renewable resources, plus support for the bioeconomy.
By means of intense and long-lasting collaboration activities, many results have been achieved over the three years of the project – ranging from enabling knowledge transfer, enhancing innovative capability of partners (building strong relations among universities, research centres and industry), and providing valuable networking opportunities for young scholars. All these have contributed to promote circular economy concepts, increase public awareness, and stimulate national and European policy discussion around the central topic of food waste valorisation. In this respect, a fundamental legacy of EUBIS is the new H2020 project STAR-ProBio starting in Spring 2017 and dealing specifically with the topic of bio-based products’ standards – an area of enquiry which is attracting growing interest from various EC units (e.g. Directorate General for Research & Innovation).
As an additional impact, EUBIS has delivered fundamental results, through its highly transdisciplinary approach, which bring together market development knowhow and research projects at an early stage, encouraging the best prioritisation of resources. This was largely achieved through the constant engagement of the food system stakeholders, as well as the decision to deepen consumer perceptions expertise. Indeed, as it emerged at various stages of the action life, consumers are a vital part of the circular economy and more research is needed on how consumers will react to waste-based products, plus on how to engage them with circular economy thinking and encourage a more active role in the structure. This message was clearly delivered to policy makers, marking another achievement of this Action.