Can plant-based degradable ‘plastic’ solve the problem?

Avani offers a solution made from cassava, but its success depends on a change in waste management systems

Avani's cassava-based bags are 100 per cent biodegradable. Courtesy Avani
Powered by automated translation

The speed with which plastics have become a global social ill, due to their negative impact on the ­environment, has been unprecedented – and with it has come a rush towards inventing a genuine alternative substance that's malleable, but also truly disposable.

Necessity really is, as the saying goes, the mother of invention, and Kevin Kumala believes his company, Avani, has a viable answer: straws, cups, plates, containers, cutlery, bags and even ponchos made from plant-based materials that can compost after they’re no longer required, returning to whence they came.

Avani has only been in existence for four years, set up by Kumala after he’d seen the terrible plastic pollution blighting his home of Bali, which ends up being an oceanic dumping ground for deadly detritus from Indonesia and China, some of the worst culprits for dumping plastic waste into the sea. Taking inspiration from existing bio-plastics made from corn starch, he and his partner came up with materials formed from vegetable oil, organic resins and cassava (an Indonesian root vegetable) starch, which can be used to make catering paraphernalia normally fashioned from traditional plastic.

The company’s straws are made from paper, and have microscopically thin, plant-based wax liners. They’re free from chlorine and can last an hour in water, which is considerably longer than most are required.

Avani's range of biodegradable items includes drinks cups, straws and many others normally made from plastic
Avani's range of biodegradable items includes drinks cups, straws and many others normally made from plastic

Peter Avram is the director of Avani Middle East and, while he says these new products are evidently a step in the right direction, he also confirms that we need a change in infrastructure for their full potential to be realised. And that means industrial composting – something the UAE isn’t overly familiar with.

“The products perform just like traditional plastic,” he says, “but are 100 per cent natural, biodegradable, compostable, recyclable and certified to biodegrade in 180 days or less.” He adds that they can compost in landfill, but are more suitable to specific industrial facilities.

“The challenge is to get composting facilities in the UAE that support biodegradable solutions to waste, and we are talking with Emirates Environment Technologies and other organisations to explore ways to drive this agenda.

“We’re here to drive the campaign to reduce the use of single-use plastics, replacing them with alternatives, and we are committed to driving the education towards making the UAE ready to be a nation where waste is treated correctly. Government and legislation changes will be essential drivers to change, especially in terms of waste management.”

Avram adds that there are other countries that the UAE can learn from, where there have been great successes in changing behaviour and adapting infrastructure. "In Bali," he says, "PLA products are collected for composting, and as soon as the UAE can offer the same facilities, there will be scope for the same kind of collection services." Regarding the shopping bags Avani produces, he points out that they are unique in that they can dissolve in water and are harmless if ingested by animals, yet perform just like any other plastic grocery bag when required. "These don't require industrial composting facilities," he adds. "They biodegrade in landfill."


Read more:

The unsettling facts about plastic pollution

Avani plant-based technology that rivals plastic arrives in the UAE

Indonesian entrepreneur tackles plastic scourge