Indonesia can play a key role in the fight against plastic waste by developing bioplastics out of seaweed.
We live in a plastic society – and are poisoning ourselves and our planet for this addiction. One alternative gaining global momentum is bioplastic. According to an article in The Conversation, global bioplastic production capacity is set to increase from 4.2 million tonnes in 2016 to 6.1 million tonnes in 2021. Big brands like Coca-Cola, Unilever, Danone and Nike are leading the way by introducing bioplastics for their packaging.
But as Bakti Berlyanto Sedayu, a PhD candidate at Victoria University, argues, the materials most commonly used to produce bioplastics – corn, sugarcane, vegetable oil and starch – are problematic: they require a huge investment in land, fertilisers and chemicals, and using these plants for bioplastics triggers competition with plants for food, which in turn will lead to food price hikes and food crisis.
According to Sedayu, seaweed is a better candidate for bioplastics. It is cheap, can be grown without fertilisers, and does not take up space on land as it grows offshore.
“By using seaweed for bioplastics, the production of agricultural commodities for food will remain intact, so no food price hikes nor food crisis will occur,” explains Sedayu.
In his opinion, Indonesia can play a key role here. The Asian archipelago is one of the world’s largest seaweed producers, accounting for more than a third of global seaweed production. What’s more, it is also the world’s largest producer of red seaweed, whose carbohydrate element is a key ingredient in bioplastics.
Eco-entrepreneurs in that country are already developing seaweed-based plastics, such as Indonesia Evoware, which sells cups and food containers made from farmed seaweeds.
More research is still needed to ensure that seaweed-based plastics will be comparable with conventional plastics, but Sedayu is quick to highlight their one major advantage: “When water bottles or shopping bags from seaweed-based plastics become waste, we will have nothing to worry about as the waste will just go back to where it came from.”
Image credit: Dan Ox via Flickr