A rapidly growing share of global agricultural areas is devoted to the production of biomass for non-food purposes. The expanding non-food bioeconomy can have far-reaching social and ecological implications; yet, the non-food sector has attained little attention in land footprint studies. This paper provides the first assessment of the global cropland footprint of non-food products of the European Union (EU), a globally important region regarding its expanding bio-based economy. We apply a novel hybrid land flow accounting model, combining the biophysical trade model LANDFLOW with the multi-regional input–output model EXIOBASE. The developed hybrid approach improves the level of product and country detail, while comprehensively covering all global supply chains from agricultural production to final consumption, including highly processed products, such as many non-food products. The results highlight the EU's role as a major processing and the biggest consuming region of cropland-based non-food products, while at the same time relying heavily on imports. Two thirds of the cropland required to satisfy the EU's non-food biomass consumption are located in other world regions, particularly in China, the US and Indonesia, giving rise to potential impacts on distant ecosystems. With almost 39% in 2010, oilseeds used to produce for example biofuels, detergents and polymers represented the dominant share of the EU's non-food cropland demand. Traditional non-food biomass uses, such as fibre crops for textiles and animal hides and skins for leather products, also contributed notably (22%). Our findings suggest that if the EU Bioeconomy Strategy is to support global sustainable development, a detailed monitoring of land use displacement and spillover effects is decisive for targeted and effective EU policy making.
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