BIO-LUTIONS: a biodegradable alternative to single-use plastic
Many people are moving away from single-use plastic because of the environmental damage it causes. But what are the alternatives? One German company stands out for a particularly environmentally friendly solution – as cheap and available as plastic, but entirely biodegradable. Read More
Many people are moving away from single-use plastic because of the environmental damage it causes. But what are the alternatives? One German company stands out for a particularly environmentally friendly solution – as cheap and available as plastic, but entirely biodegradable.
For decades now, plastic packing has been an integral part of our everyday lives. Now the mountains of plastic wastes choking the seas and killing entire schools of fish are making it quite clear, if somewhat late in the game, the plastic is not an acceptable solution. Especially not all the plastic packing that is discarded after just one use. So does doing away with single-use plastic mean going without take-aways and coffee to go?
In recent years, a growing number of governments have implemented bans on single-use plastic. The first country to ban thin plastic bags was Bangladesh in 2002, followed by South Africa, Rwanda, China, Australia, Italy, Kenya, and approximately 25 other countries. The European Union recently decided to not only ban single-use plastic bags but also straws, plates, cutlery, and cotton-swab – all of this by 2021. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently pledged to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2022, with the majority of India’s 29 states already having implemented a full or partial ban. But bans raise an important question: what are the alternatives?
There are, of course, plenty of alternatives to plastic. They are made of wheat bran, hay, coffee grounds, glass and many more – mostly biodegradable – materials. But many are not nearly as affordable as plastic, and usually neither chemical-free nor suited for mass production. The packaging produced by German company BIO-LUTIONS is the exception that proves the rule.
More environmentally friendly than paper and cardboard
“Everyone knows that plastic is a problem, but the alternatives that currently exist are not affordable,” Eduardo Gordillo, the CEO and co-founder of BIO-LUTIONS, says. By contrast, the packaging products manufactured by his company cost almost the same amount as their corresponding plastic products – and even beat paper and cardboard packing when it comes to environmental friendliness. The company aims to offer a sustainable alternative to single-use plastic packaging that could be used for the products we love, like a delicious take-away.
BIO-LUTIONS set up its first production facility in the Indian city of Ramanagara – about 40 km from Bangalore. The factory began operations in August 2018, turning agricultural residue like sugarcane thrash, banana stems, wheat and rice straw, etc. into packing material and tableware. The process only uses plant fibre that would otherwise land on the rubbish heap; no useful plants are used as in the production of biogas. Recycling these agricultural residues instead of burning them lowers pollution, and the company buys the residues from local smallholders, giving them an additional source of income.
Nanotechnology circumvents the use of chemicals
Additionally, the production process requires no additional binders or chemicals. “Most of the people who currently operate in this segment use a chemical process, like adding caustic soda to soften the fibers”, Kurian Mathew, the CEO and Managing Director in India, says. “We use a mechanical process and only water to convert all kinds of residue into tableware and packing material.”
The technology used was developed in Germany and has been patented. First the plant residue is dried and pressed, and then a machine grinds it into tiny particles known as self-binding microfibrillated or nanofibrillated cellulose. With the addition of water, the particles can be formed into stable material. “Similar to a hook-and-loop fastener, the natural fibres automatically bond together,” Eduardo Gordillo explains. The resulting pulp can be pressed into any desired shape.
Clients include supermarkets, hospitals or delivery services
Whether you need disposable cutlery for a big family reunion, packaging for your grocery shopping, or something to take a snack on the road in, BIO-LUTIONS’ basic packaging is perfect for storing any kind of dry goods, like raw veggies or technical devices. There is also a version laminated with bio-plastic for foods containing water or oil. BIO-LUTIONS supplies hospitals, for example, who order single-use containers for medical instruments.
Having recently secured 8.3 million euros in funds from famous investors such as ‘Delivery Hero’, an online food ordering business operating in 34 countries, BIO-LUTIONS plans to build three new production facilities: a second in India, one in Thailand and one in Brandenburg in Germany. The company wants to create a decentralized production network with local factories, regionalized distribution and localized raw material collection to limit the carbon emissions caused by transportation. This is another distinct advantage to the technology, as in theory the packaging can be produced locally anywhere. After all, farming is done all around the globe and can supply the needed residues.