Sip on this: Drinkable ‘Plastic’?

IAMNOTPLASTIC bagUnless you live under a rock, you’ve heard about recent plastic bag bans happening around the world. We recently blogged about how France is giving consumers until 2020 to switch to disposable dishes made from 50 percent biodegradable material. People are constantly searching for ways to reduce waste in landfills by using more eco-friendly materials and products like reusable shopping bags. However, a new type of bag, made from cassava, a widespread and affordable vegetable across Indonesia, is on the horizon and could help the war on waste.

Kevin Kumala, a biology graduate and the brains behind the innovation, got to thinking when he was in Bali and noticed motorists wearing vinyl ponchos. He realized most of these ponchos, which do not decompose, were being worn a handful of times, only to be thrown away and end up in a landfill. Bali suffers from a large amount of waste washing up on its beaches, mainly from China and Indonesia dumping plastic in the ocean.

After this eye-opening experience, Kumala and his friend began studying bioplastics, and came up with their own recipe consisting of cassava starch, vegetable oil, and organic resins. According to CNN, the result was a “100% bio-based material [that was] biodegradable and compostable, breaking down over a period of months on land or at sea, or instantly in hot water.” This lead to Kumala launching his own company in 2014, Avani Eco.

However, as you know very few, if any, innovations come without obstacles. One problem has been finding reliable investors. Another is the price of the bags being more expensive than traditional plastic bags, making it a hard sell to businesses.  And you also may be asking yourself about the safety of a dissolvable plastic on the environment. Kumula isn’t worried about that, explaining it passed an oral toxicity test. He is so confident in the safety of the product he dissolved and drank the bioplastic, saying it “leaves no trace of toxic residue.” Avani Eco. Also sells cassava plastic ponchos, coffee cups, cutlery, food containers and straws.

Algae and shrimp shells are two other feedstocks being explored in the bioplastics industry. And while Kumala remains confident in the future of bioplastics Heidi Savelli, leader of a UNEP programme on marine litter, explains “the most urgent challenge is to improve our management of plastic.”

Whether or not you’d take a sip of this dissolved material, you can’t deny how interesting it is to imagine a world where plastic dissolves – eliminated the risk to marine life and keeping beaches and land cleaner. As researchers continue to develop promising new products, this may very well become the new reality.