James Gaffey, from Munster Technological University, partner of the BIOSWITCH project

James Gaffey Interview

James Gaffey, from Munster Technological University, partner of the BIOSWITCH project

What’s your role within the BIOSWITCH project?

Our role in BIOSWITCH is to lead Work Package 1, which involves mapping and analysing brand owner and consumer perspectives on bio-based products. Within that, we conducted a Pan-EU brand study, and a regional consumer study to understand the needs, risks and motivations of these different but essential stakeholders. We also designed and hosted regional and Pan-EU workshops to engage with multi-actor stakeholders and to co-develop solutions to overcome identified risks and barriers. Later in the project, we contributed to the BIOSWITCH toolbox content development as well as replication activities.

How does your entity contribute to the bioeconomy?

Our research group (CircBio Research Group), is a multi-disciplinary research group comprised of lab-based and desk-based researchers ranging from post-graduate to Principal Investigator level. We participate on numerous circular bioeconomy projects at regional, national and international level. Our aim is to support Ireland and Europe’s transition to a sustainable low carbon economy, by delivering high quality research, and also supporting real-world implementation of sustainable innovations based on that research.  Our group is also home to the Circular Bioeconomy Cluster South-West which helps in that regard. In addition to research, we are also active in education and talent development for the bioeconomy, delivering taught post-graduate courses, up to Masters level on bioeconomy and circular economy.

What are your expectations / what do you expect to achieve within the framework of the BIOSWITCH project?

I think BIOSWITCH has been playing a very important role in improving the understanding of the motivations of downstream value chain actors (e.g. brands, consumers) in the bioeconomy. The project has produced really inspiring case studies and showcases of companies of all sizes and sectors, which have already made the switch to bio-based materials, as well as an excellent toolbox to support those still in transition. I think the project is also helping to raise awareness of bio-based materials among consumers and helping to bridge the gap between bio-based industry, brands and consumers. Getting all the actors engaged is essential for success.

Where do you think the main change should be produced to boost bio-based alternatives in replacement for fossil-based ones?

Brands owners, being the primary focus of BIOSWITCH, can be an essential actor in enabling bio-based materials to reach mass markets. We’ve seen that for example with Coca-Cola’s plant bottle, and in recent years we are seeing more and more brands adopting these materials. At the same, we’ve found that some brands still have, among other concerns, concerns about the price and functionality of bio-based materials. So, from the research and industry side, some work still needs to be done to address and alleviate these concerns, so that even more brands see bio-based as their ingredient of choice. Consumers are also really important to bring on board. Based on our analysis in BIOSWITCH, consumers expect and want to purchase more bio-based products over the coming years. But more work still needs to be done to boost consumer knowledge about the existence and benefit of bio-based materials, in order to ensure that these are widely adopted. So, I don’t think there is one change, but rather it is an ongoing effort from all of the relevant actors to continue the journey. And while this is an ongoing journey, I think that if we look at the progress that has been made over the last 10 years, we can be reassured that we are going in the right direction.

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