The Alchemy of Bio Degradable Plastic for a Greener World

Greenhope

11. Sustainable Cities and Communities 12. Responsible Consumption and Production

Overview

PT Tirta Marta, an early pioneer in plastic packaging for food, pharmaceuticals, electronics, and cosmetics in Indonesia began actively pursuing more earth-friendly packaging. Beginning in 2000, the President of the Company stepped up R&D to develop an environmentally-friendly plastic process and technology. It took ten years to find the right formula, then another five years to launch it in the market and gain its current acceptance. As a green technology company with a vision to usher in next generation, more sustainable plastics, the company's name was changed to Greenhope.

Conventional plastic bags take 500 years to degrade. But Greenhope's new biodegradable polymer is made from tapioca, a naturally abundant starch from the cassava root. The polymer can be made into eco-friendly plastic bags, packaging materials, and many other uses, substituting conventional plastics.

In addition to being good to the environment, the company is good to its farmers. Its operations and sourcing are from local tapioca cooperatives that follow fair trade standards (certified by the IMO Switzerland for Fair For Life) to earn a living wage.

Author

Amelia Naim Indrajaya

Amelia Naim Indrajaya

School

IPMI International Business School

IPMI International Business School

Professor

Amelia Naim Indrajaya

Amelia Naim Indrajaya

Innovation

While traditional plastic takes 500 years to degrade, OXIUM® and ECOPLAS® have introduced greener solutions for polyethylene, polystyrene, and polypropylene.

OXIUM® is an additive that facilitates oxo-biodegradation in plastic, such as polyethylene and polystyrene, to achieve two step degradation through oxidation (exposure to oxygen and heat) and biodegradation when the microbes consume it afterwards. For example, a standard plastic shopping bag with OXIUM® can break down and become bio-available for microbes to eat in two years. (see www.oxium.net).

Ecoplas is an “earth friendly plastic” that is 100% biodegradable and renewable (bio-based) from tapioca. By able to technically blend conventional plastics with majority starch (60-75%), Ecoplas manages to retain all the best functionalities of plastics (waterproof, lightweight, strong barrier property, etc.) while making it functionally biodegradable, therefore solving the huge plastic waste issue. Additionally, among all the bio-based alternatives, Ecoplas is the most economical choice, which speeds up adoption amongst customers. When made into a standard plastic shopping bag, such bag may degrade in weeks when buried amongst active microbes or insects, depending on microbial activity level.

Products the company has introduced to the market include degradable shopping bags, packaging, polystyrene lunch boxes, re-usable totes, soil cover for sanitary landfill and hangers. More applications are under development.

The Alchemy of Bio Degradable Plastic for a Greener World

Inspiration

When asked what motivated Sugianto Tandio to spend nearly 10 years and millions of dollars on R&D for a biodegradable plastic, he replied, “I grew up in the small town of Sumatera, a poor tropical town in Indonesia. I saw the problems local farmers faced and wanted to do something about it. When I took over the company I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with it just yet, but I did know that I wanted to solve the environmental issues plastic caused, as well as helping the rural farmers.” So he linked the environmental benefits with social benefits.

Overall impact

By making disposable plastics to be degradable, it helps to avoid accumulation and reduce waste. In waste management we all know about Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (3R) which is a very important concept and useful, but it is inadequate because it doesn’t address the end-of-life issue (after plastics is being reduced, and/or reused, and/or recycled, then it still goes to mostly landfill situation for most countries). By introducing degradable concept, we bridge the missing link, the 4th R (Return to Earth), which enables plastics to go back to the ground naturally, completing its natural life cycle.

Business benefit

When it was launched, Greenhope's degradable bags captured >90% of the modern market shopping bags in Indonesia, helping to start the awareness. Today, majority of modern supermarkets in Indonesia are using Oxium degradable bags. The company also serves many multinational companies’ branded shopping bags. Applications in utensils and foodtrays including polystyrene trays are gaining significant adoption. Adoption to replace conventional plastic packaging is also very encouraging, i.e. Ecoplas is being used widely by Indonesia’s leading brand on tissue paper, as well as bread packaging. Innovative development continues in Greenhope, with applications on landfill daily cover, diapers, face masks, gloves, and many others on the pipeline.

The company’s good for the environment mission to find solutions to polluting the planet has led to honors for its innovations. Greenhope (was PT Tirta Marta at that time) was honored with the 2011 Best Applied Innovation award by the Indonesian Ministry for Research and Technology (RISTEK), and had been acknowledged as a Unilever Preferred Partner, and Endeavor Global Entrepreneurs.

Its operations and sourcing from local tapioca cooperatives has attracted media attention in Forbes Indonesia, Globe Asia, the Jakarta Post, Bloomberg Businessweek, and other publications.

According to Sugianto, Oxium degradable plastic is priced almost the same as regular plastic. Ecoplas is 50%-100% more expensive, but still in demand because people want a bio-based plastic product that is not harming the environment.

The resin for OXIUM® and ECOPLAS® is only produced and made available through Greenhope. Greenhope brings its eco-friendly solutions to market through a network of manufacturing and sales partnerships in Indonesia, and other countries in Asia and the Americas. It welcomes like minded partners from all over the world to collaborate together and convert unsustainable plastics to sustainable ones.

Social and environmental benefit

Rural farmers are getting a fair price for their tapioca harvest. The world’s plastic garbage will be significantly reduced by plastic bags that don’t take 500 years to break down in a landfill. Greenhope’s new biodegradable plastic bags can degrade in just a few weeks when exposed to microbes and insects.

Facts about plastic bag pollution addressed by the new oxo-biodegradable (Oxium) and bio-based, biodegradable bags (Ecoplas):

  • It can take 500 years or more for traditional plastic bags to degrade.
  • An average family of four uses 1,460 plastic bags a year.
  • Less than 1% of all plastic bags get recycled.
  • Plastic bags choke drainage systems and clog rivers... causing flooding.
  • It is estimated 500 billion plastic bags are sold worldwide every year.
  • 9-15% of waste in landfills are plastics.

Interview

Sugianto Tandio, Chairman of Greenhope (PT Harapan Interaksi Swadaya)

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Greenhope

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