Learn how this Tamil Nadu-based startup is creating a biodegradable alternative to plastic bags
To say that plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental concerns facing us today and that plastic waste is rapidly turning into a gigantic crisis is no understatement. The United Nations is set to approve a plan to create the first-ever global treaty on plastic pollution, which is touted as one of the most important resolutions since the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement.
When it comes to plastic pollution, plastic bags are the main source of contamination because they take years, even decades, to break down. In addition, they release toxic gases into the air when burned and emit toxic substances released into the soil when perishing under sunlight, which poses a serious health problem.
According to a report titled Global Plastics Outlook Economic Drivers, Environmental Impacts and Policy Options by the OECD, plastic waste generated per person ranges from 221 kg in the United States to 114 kg in some European countries and 69 kg in Japan and Korea. While only 9% of global plastic waste is recycled, plastic consumption has quadrupled over the past 30 years, driven by growth in population, income levels and emerging markets.
With nearly 30 tons of plastic waste in the seas and oceans and another 109 tons accumulating in the rivers, suffice it to say that the situation is indeed very worrying. The indiscriminate use of single-use plastics like straws and carrier bags only compounds the problem.
Founded in 2020, GreenPlast is a Coimbatore-based startup founded by Kavitha Rajan and her late father, Veeraswami. He has created a biodegradable alternative to plastic carrier bags. Startups water soluble bags and pellets are easily dissolved or composted and sturdy and rain resistant.
The company claims that the products are made with a water-soluble polymer that is non-toxic to the environment, animals and plants. The bags also leave no microplastic residue as they are plastic free.
How did this idea come about?
In 2013, Kavitha’s father embarked on a journey to find an alternative to plastic bags. For his research, he traveled to countries like Japan, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, and China to understand the alternatives to plastic in the market.
He discovered that there was a technology to make biodegradable organic bags for daily use. Yet he was surprised to learn that the main raw material for making these bags, biodegradable pellets, is not being made available on the market to save the plastics industry.
He realized that the only way to solve the plastic problem is to make the raw materials for plastic substitutes readily available. He set up an entire home lab to research how to create water-soluble pellets that can be blown into films and made into bags.
He was the first to find an alternative to disposable plastic in 2016. After further research and constant experimentation, he successfully installed his first pilot project in Coimbatore with a capacity of 125 tons per month at the end of 2020.
Biodegradable alternative to plastic
According to the company official, all products ranging from pellets to bags are made from water-soluble polymer (PVA), processed starch, vegetable oil derivatives and other non-plastic additives. These products are non-toxic to the environment, animals and plants.
The company claims that this startup is the only manufacturer of hot water soluble biodegradable pellets in India. The biodegradable, water-soluble pellets are made using their uniquely formulated proprietary formula, a breakthrough technology.
An excellent replacement for single-use plastic bags, these bags are made in specially adapted machine units and can be quickly dissolved or composted after use. The company offers both hot and cold water soluble bags.
Challenges in finding an alternative
PlastIndia Founder Kavitha Rajan while chatting with The logical Indiansaid: “When my father started GreenPlast, one of the main challenges was the elasticity and the stability when blowing. If there was too much starch, the film could not blow well. If there was too much vegetable oil, the oil was starting to seep from the films.It took about a year to bring this stability and the balance between starch, oil and PVA.
She added that we have a monthly capacity of 125 tons of pellets and 40 tons of films/bags. We have been commercial since August 2021, and since then we have reached around 10-15 tons per month. We have a few customers in Kenya, Dubai and Chile for our granules and three in India who use our granules to make their water-soluble pouches and bags.
‘Does it work like a plastic?’
Rajan said that when we say it’s a great substitute for plastic, the customer’s first thought is, “Does it work like plastic?”
Because it looks like plastic, it doesn’t have to perform like plastic. If it works like plastic at the same cost, it will have the same properties as plastic. The idea of a replacement is that it should be compostable or otherwise safely disposable, she added.
These water soluble bags/films will look like plastic but behave like a paper bag when soaked in rain. According to the company, the mindset of customers when holding a cloth bag in the rain is that they need to keep the bag secure so that the items inside don’t get soaked in the rain. The approach should be similar when holding a water soluble pouch.
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