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First, it Is awesome. A Balinese biologist, has created a bag that is not only biodegradable, but also edible. And to prove it he puts it in a glass of hot water, he dissolves it and drinks it. It only needs to know well to be a successful marketing campaign for a product like this.
A product that also tries to solve an increasingly important problem. Like many other places in the world, is a tropical paradise full of wonderful waters infected to the brim with all kinds of plastic waste.
A Bag to Solve an Ecological Problem
That is why, explains, the bag made from cassava, a starchy root typical of Indonesia. Thanks to the cassava starch and (we assume) some natural plasticizer, a bioplastic bag created that is degradable, disappears in 100 days and, theoretically, does not harm the environment. Nor to the fish that can eat it without problems.
Densities of plastics worldwide for each of the four size classes (0.33 to 1.00mm, 1.01 to 4.75mm, 4.76 to 200mm, and >200mm).
Hence, he decided to drink it: I wanted to show that this bioplastic is so harmless to marine animals that even a human being can drink it. I was not nervous because it had passed all the toxicity tests, explained.
His initiative is in line with the government’s decision to make the island “plastic bag free” by 2018. And hey, who could be against the little tropical fish?
The problem is that there are more than enough reasons to be skeptical. The bag of cassava is far from being a novelty. At least, in general terms. Almost a decade ago we met (with a similar marketing campaign) a cousin of this bag: the famous, and today somewhat forgotten, bag of potato starch.
As in this case, those bags used potato starch to create the bioplastic. Or rather, they used amylose, a part of starch that is easy to process and quite like ordinary plastic. Everything in order until we realize that amylose represents only 6% of the potato.
In other words, we need to discard 94% of each potato to produce a material that, says, is very hygroscopic, losing resistance in the presence of moisture. It has a high viscosity, so its processing is costly; and it is a material essentially fragile. In other words, once we have that material, we must process it industrially to get something like plastic bags.
From (or worse) from the disease, as you can see if the treatments are the same or not. This process is not easy and cheap. It estimates that the production of these potato starch bags is 10 times more expensive than the production of ordinary polyethylene bags. And in the worst case, its impact on the environment is not small.
Yes, it is true: once the bag of starch is ready, it biodegrades easily, but if we look at the entire manufacturing process, we will see that it takes a beastly number of resources to make them (remember, only 6 % of each potato) and that causes it to spur deforestation and the irrational use of arable land. The environmental impact is brutal.
Bags Made with Cassava
But, well, – you will tell me – these bags made with cassava, doesn’t it improve anything? Something improves, it is true. Cassava has 17% amylose compared to 6% in potatoes. However, you only must do numbers to realize that the environmental impact is also disproportionate. Above all, if we consider that there are new polyethylene’s that degrade in a matter of months (very far from the decades that it could take before and very close to this type of bag).
Am I saying, then, that we use plastic bags like there is no tomorrow? Absolutely. Only the island (to use the same example) discards a thousand meters of plastic daily. It is not time to return to the indiscriminate use of polyethylene. But neither is it about replacing it with something else with an also disproportionate environmental impact.
The solution to the problem of plastic bags is not to use something else, but to reduce, reuse and recycle. The creation of an ecological conscience can be slow, as denounces, but today it is the only alternative.
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