Sustainable Development Impact

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a call to action from the United Nations (UN) for all countries to come together to address and tackle global issues1. The 17 goals focus on various topics, from improving healthcare and reducing gender inequality to expanding infrastructure and supplying affordable and clean energy to all. The UN recognizes that the success of the goals requires global collaboration, as the topics are interconnected and need to be implemented in concert. Each goal has separate targets to which countless individuals, organizations, governments, and projects contribute.

2023 marks year 11 since the start date of the SDGs, and the status update shows that there is still a lot of work necessary to reach them, especially in terms of environmental goals2. Without strengthened policies, it is forecasted that global warming will exceed the critical 1.5°C tipping point by 20352. Surpassing this will cause a global cascade effect on the climate that will have devastating effects on large parts of the population3. We are already noticing the effects of climate change through increased extreme weather conditions and rising sea levels, and to avoid reaching the tipping point we need to act now and move to net-zero emissions at a much faster pace3. Even though this is clear, fossil fuel subsidies have risen back to their 2014 levels and there is an urgent need for switching to responsible consumption of resources2.

By producing biodegradable plastics with green methanol, PHAse Out specifically focuses on contributing to two SDGs: Responsible Consumption and Production (12) and Life on Land (15) (Figure 1).

SDG overview
Fig. 1 | Tackled SDGs Breakdown of addressed targets of SDG 12 and 15.

Our decision to focus on goals 12 and 15, was informed by our interviews with Rob Verhagen, Sustainability Director OPACKGROUP, President of NRK Packaging and steering team member of Plastic Pact NL and the EUPC (European Plastics Convertors), the RIVM, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment and Nico Claassens, Associate Professor at the Laboratory of Microbiology, among many others .

Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production

On the 25th of September 2023, the European Commission adopted measures to restrict intentionally added microplastics such as glitters or plastic particles added to body scrub lotions4. This is a huge step forward in addressing the microplastic pollution issue and includes regulations restricting the use of non-degradable plastics for controlled-release fertilizer (CRF) coatings. CRFs currently make up 62% of all intentionally released microplastics in the European environment, about 22500 tonnes per year5. The regulations give a 5 year derogation period, after which CRFs need to be made from appropriately degrading material that does not produce microplastics4. PHAse Out focuses on sustainably produced biodegradable plastic that can be used for CRFs, supporting the EU legislation and SDG 12: responsible consumption and production.

  • Goal 12 was laid down to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns for sustaining the livelihoods of current and future generations. Within goal 12, our project focuses on the following targets:

  • Target 12.2: By 2030, achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources.

  • Target 12.4: By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment.

  • Target 12.5: By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse.

  • Target 12.a: Support developing countries to strengthen their scientific and technological capacity to move towards more sustainable patterns of consumption and production.

Our project furthers all these targets. Firstly, the green methanol used for our PHA production is sustainably made from green energy. This means that we can feed our bacteria independent of land use, freeing up agricultural land for food production. In this way we contribute towards target 12.2 by allowing for efficient and sustainable use and managing of our resources. Secondly, as PHA degrades in ambient conditions and does not contribute towards microplastic pollution we support target 12.4 and 12.5 by managing and preventing waste6. By preventing the formation of microplastics that pollute our food and agricultural land we also safeguard human health. PHA can be used safely on farmland and in products that come into contact with food, making PHA an ideal material to meet the new EU regulations for CRFs7, 8. Thirdly, a core pillar of PHAse Out is our social entrepreneurship, which you can read more about on our entrepreneurship page . Through this, we aim to support developing countries through technology and information transfer to strengthen their inherent capacity for responsible and sustainable production, which goes toward furthering target 12.a. By creating alternative sources for economic inflow that do not rely on using arable land, food supply is safeguarded and responsible consumption and production practices are strengthened.

“The use of sustainably produced PHA in fertilizers is a great way to reduce microplastics, reduce the use of arable land and help companies in Europe to comply with the new legislation.”

Rob Verhagen

Goal 15: Life on land

With 83 million people being added to our population every year, our world population is projected to reach 9.8 billion people by 20509. This increase in population brings with it a huge projected increase in the demand for arable land and agricultural expansion10. As roughly 90% of all deforestation is directly caused by agricultural expansion, this demand for arable land is very worrying. Deforestation is incredibly damaging, causing ecosystems to collapse, mass extinctions, and extremely rapid decline in biodiversity11.

Currently, only 0.02% of the global agricultural land is used to produce feedstocks for making bioplastic. However, if we were to replace all fossil-based plastics with biobased plastics, this production would require up to 20% of all global arable land available, which is a 1000 times increase12, 13. In order to continue meeting the demand for food, this would necessitate agricultural expansion, causing deforestation and desertification. PHAse Out tackles this by using green methanol as an alternative carbon source, as the production of this does not require arable land. Through using an alternative feedstock and by removing microplastics from the environment, we work towards supporting SDG 15, Life on Land. This goal “seeks to protect, restore and promote the conservation and sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems”. We focus on the following targets:

  • Target 15.1: By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements.

  • Target 15.2: By 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally.

  • Target 15.3: By 2030, combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world.

  • Target 15.5: Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species

In the context of SDG 15, our project helps in several ways. Firstly, we expand the research on using green methanol as a feedstock for industrial bioproduction. By providing a production platform based on a carbon source that does not require arable land, we prevent agricultural expansion. This combats deforestation and desertification and ensures the conservation of our forests and their ecosystems. Our new, green method of producing PHA reduces the pressure on using agricultural land for biobased plastics, and the preventative effect of this supports targets 15.1 - 15.3. However, it is crucial to use sustainable methanol, as methanol can also be produced from non-renewable sources. As such, it is important that appropriate legislation policies are put in place to prevent this. Secondly, we also further goal 15.5 by reducing land pollution and degradation of arable land through using non-polluting CRFs. CRFs play an important role in preventing nutrient runoff and maintaining plant and soil health, which maintains and restores degraded agricultural land by ensuring zero net loss of land productivity14, 15. This reduces degradation of natural habitats by preventing agricultural expansion and halts the loss of biodiversity. Ensuring that CRFs also do not cause microplastic pollution further protects natural habitats and protects biodiversity.

“The new methodology of using methanol and green energy might be breaking the status quo and therefore adds a valuable carbon source to the options available for the industry. Significant investments in Affordable and Clean Energy (7) is crucial to achieve the goals.”

Rob Verhagen

Through the use of green methanol and the application of biodegradable plastics in fertilizer coatings, PHAse Out hopes to play a significant role in advancing SDG 12 and 15. Our project aligns with the urgency of addressing environmental concerns, particularly microplastic pollution and the conservation of arable land to prevent deforestation and desertification. Overall PHAse Out represents a crucial step towards achieving sustainable development goals, addressing pressing environmental challenges, and fostering responsible consumption and production practices for a better future.


    1. Dpicampaigns. Take action for the sustainable development goals - United Nations Sustainable Development. United Nations Sustainable Development. Published 31 mei 2023.

    2. United Nations. The Sustainable Development Goals Report Special Edition.; 2023.

    3. McKay DIA, Staal A, Abrams JF, e.a. Exceeding 1.5°C global warming could trigger multiple climate tipping points. Science. 2022;377(6611). doi:10.1126/science.abn7950

    4. Commission Regulation (EU) amending REACH regulation as regards synthetic polymer microparticles. Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs.

    5. Assessment of Agricultural Plastics and Their Sustainability: A Call for Action.; 2021. doi:10.4060/cb7856en

    6. Mukherjee A, Koller M. Microbial PolyHydroxyAlkanoate (PHA) Biopolymers—Intrinsically natural. Bioengineering. 2023;10(7):855. doi:10.3390/bioengineering10070855

    7. Bugnicourt E, Cinelli P, Lazzeri A, Álvarez VA. Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA): review of synthesis, characteristics, processing and potential applications in packaging. Express Polymer Letters. 2014;8(11):791-808. doi:10.3144/expresspolymlett.2014.82

    8. View of linking food industry to “Green plastics” – polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) biopolyesters from Agro-industrial By-Products for securing food safety.

    9. United Nations. World population projected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050, and 11.2 billion in 2100 | United Nations. United Nations.

    10. Statista. Global per capita Meat consumption 2022-2032. Statista. Published 17 augustus 2023.

    11. Martin. Forests, Desertification and Biodiversity - United Nations Sustainable Development. United Nations Sustainable Development. Published 11 september 2023.

    12. Rosenboom J, Langer R, Traverso G. Bioplastics for a circular economy. Nature Reviews Materials. 2022;7(2):117-137. doi:10.1038/s41578-021-00407-8

    13. Erenstein O, Chamberlin J, Sonder K. Estimating the global number and distribution of maize and wheat farms. Global Food Security. 2021;30:100558. doi:10.1016/j.gfs.2021.100558

    14. Vejan P, Khadiran T, Abdullah R, Ahmad N. Controlled Release Fertilizer: A review on developments, applications and potential in agriculture. Journal of Controlled Release. 2021;339:321-334. doi:10.1016/j.jconrel.2021.10.003

    15. Land Management & Restoration. UNCCD.