Bulgaria has an excellent potential to promote bioeconomy, but a bold and ambitious vision for its development is needed. This is according to the results of the study entitled "Quantitative assessment of biomass in Bulgaria and its possibilities for sustainable use", prepared by the conservation organization WWF.
This analysis was presented at the conference, organized jointly by the national cluster associations of Bulgaria and Romania, WWF, the Association for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises and other partners. The forum was held as part of the European Commission's Green Week, dedicated to the topic of the bioeconomy as an engine for green, sustainable and inclusive growth.
The study was prepared by the conservation organization WWF with the participation of The University of Wageningen, Netherlands, as well as with the expert assistance of the Energy Agency – Plovdiv, which has the only analytical laboratory in Bulgaria for testing solid biofuels, compost and bio-waste accredited according to ISO. It showed that the artificial and built-up area in Bulgaria makes up only 4% of the land surface, while the most dominant classes of land cover are forests (40%), arable areas (29%) and lawns (18%). Based on the analysis, the experts strongly believe that our country has relatively large resources of agricultural and forest areas, which, calculated on a per capita basis, are twice the European average.
In addition, they are equal on a national scale – forests are located in the south, and agricultural land – in the north of the country, according to WWF.
"In terms of the development of the bio-based economy, Bulgaria has a very long way to go. The topic began to enter the public domain only recently. Europe is aware that in our country we have lower amounts of bio-waste –about 400 kg per capita on average. But Bulgaria also ranks fifth in the amount of municipal waste per capita. As regards the recovery of these wastes, which are actually raw materials for new economic activities and job creation, Bulgaria is at the bottom of the European Union", this was commented during the forum by the head of practice "Climate and Energy" at WWF – Georgi Stefanov.
The survey also shows that only 4% of small and medium-sized enterprises in Bulgaria use renewable energy (second-to-last in the European Union). Only 15% of them offer eco-friendly products or services (the third worst in the EU). Just over a third of small and medium-sized enterprises take energy-saving actions (third-to-last in the EU).
"The main barriers to the introduction of a bio-based economy in Bulgaria are economic: limited funding that businesses need in order to modernize their equipment, as well as a low level of private internal and external capital investment. The biggest factor contributing to our poor performance, however, is the lack of state support. The administration is just beginning to develop strategic documents for the development of a circular economy to answer the questions of where and what might happen", Stefanov added.
From all that has been said so far, WWF concludes that Bulgaria has a remarkable potential for the development of a bio-based economy due to the presence of huge amounts of residual and undigested agricultural products, including food production – a resource that is hardly used in BG. At the same time, however, there has been an even greater focus on the exploitation of forest resources, as forests in Bulgaria have already been under severe pressure, both because of the size of illegal logging and as a result of climate change. All this leads to serious environmental consequences such as habitat change, disruption of important bio-corridors, loss of species, soil erosion, etc.
This is the reason why Bulgaria should try to minimize wood extraction and start making more efficient use of the available resource, focusing mainly on bio-residues and waste from economic activities in the forest sector, conservationists say.
In order to support the implementation of the bio-based economy in Bulgaria while minimising the negative impact of the inefficient use of natural resources in the forest sector, WWF reports that they will work in several directions. First, to identify the potential of sustainably managed biomass to flow into the economy in the form of renewable energy, secondly, to create contact with bio-based industries and to draw up common recommendations for alternatives to forest biomass, the production of which leads to forest felling and thirdly, to implement the achievements of three pilot communities in line with national climate neutrality targets.
The environmental organization WWF participated as a co-organizer of the event within the project "Central European Leaders of Bioeconomy Network" – CELEBio, implemented under the European Union's research and innovation program "Horizon 2020". The project aims to prepare quantitative estimates of potential biomass in the Western Balkans region and Bulgaria, as these are the last parts of Europe for which there are no such aggregated data. The next step is to create an action plan that engages the interested parties towards the development of a bio-based economy.