Biodegradable plastics affordable

[Interview] Mayank Chouhan on making Biodegradable plastics affordable

DISCLAIMER: The Kachra Project does not endorse the product or the interviewee’s view presented in the article. The purpose of this interview is to put across this new technology. Discretion on part of the reader is advised.

Plastics have become ubiquitous in the present times. Almost half the things that surround us are made of plastic. From various kinds of packaging material to storage containers and thin polythene bags we use for grocery, plastics are everywhere. While at the time of its discovery, this super strong, flexible and ductile material was considered a blessing, recent times have changed this perception. A new replacement in the form of plant-based biodegradable plastics is now emerging as an alternative to conventional plastics.

Among the myriad forms and kinds of plastic available today, the thin polythene plastic bag often employed in carrying groceries and disposing garbage, is a curse at the cost of convenience or mere habit. Many Indian states and major cities have banned the use of polythene bags for years now and while these are still available but a user now has to pay for its use which is double whammy for now we pay to use something that eventually damages our own health.

It was this awareness that lead a young man to begin a journey on a course very few ever decide to tread. Meet Mayank Chouhan, his entrepreneurial venture of manufacturing green plastics  or biodegradable plastics has been both rewarding and challenging. We caught up with him initially on twitter and later followed up with an email interview.

A sustainability enthusiast, Mayank is a BCA graduate from Ujjain and also holds a diploma in Product Design from Indian Institute of Design, Indore. Started in 2012, today, his venture green plastics has found takers in Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Indore, Delhi, Nasik, Pune, Jabalpur, Jaipur and parts of Himachal Pradesh. While Mayank accepts the journey of green plastics has been tough financially, he remains fully committed to this work of creating biodegradable plastics.

While biodegradable plastics are not new to the world, it is still an emerging field in nascent stages. Three types of biodegradable plastic available in India are made with different technologies namely PLA i.e. Poly Lactic Acid based plastic, oxo-degradable plastic and starch-based plastic.

Mayank told us, “As none of the three biodegradable plastic technologies belong to India, the expensive raw material has to be imported, as the production of plastic resin is not practiced in house the manufacturers of finished goods have to bear heavy import duties and transportation costs that result in increased manufacturing cost of the finished goods.” The technology he employs for making green plastics uses India-made resins which prove cost-effective with the result that selling price of these biodegradable plastic bags is only 10% of conventional (non-biodegradable) plastic bags. This model of manufacturing owes credit to Bioplast technologies who spent seven years researching before coming up with this process.

Not only are the green plastic bags made from natural material and biodegradable in nature, they also have the same properties as a conventional plastic bag. “Green plastic has the same physical attributes such as tensile strength, melting and boiling point and elasticity. The technology with which we develop the biodegradable plastic is called Enzyme based chain end degradation technology, with which we convert conventional plastic into Biodegradable plastic, without changing its physical properties. With this technology, we blend enzymes with plastic during the manufacturing process that results in the integration of enzymes to the molecular structure of the polymer, so the microorganisms present in the atmosphere act on the molecular structure of the plastic allowing oxidation process to take place. The carbon of the plastic releases as carbon dioxide and hydrogen as water. It’s a natural process, this is how wood or cellulose decompose. The microorganisms initially breaks down the plastic into humus and then into carbon dioxide, water and biomass.”

Currently, energy used to manufacture a green plastic is same as a conventional plastic. In the long run, Mayank hopes “to adopt clean technology for production such as using solar energy and ROHS standards that restricts use of hazardous substances.” Since in our country burning plastic in the open remains a huge waste management issue, the obvious question that followed related to the fate of this plastic when left in the open and burnt. Mayank explained, “bioplastic we make undergoes microbial degradation, the plastic remains unchanged when in shelf, the degradation process starts when the plastic reaches soil, landfill or compost yard and decomposes completely in 180 days. However, this plastic burns the same way as a conventional plastic and release toxic gases. Every plastic will release toxic gases when burnt hence burning plastic is always discouraged.”

While availability of green plastics is an exciting news, many working in the waste management section are skeptical of this new technological innovation. Especially when it comes to segregating waste, the use of garbage plastic bags is discouraged. However, many Indian households and offices continue to employ cheaply available black garbage bags which have almost become a norm. These are sold as garbage bags and made using used plastic by mixing it with filler like Calcium to minimize costs and maximize profits. “This garbage bag cannot be recycled as the fillers in the plastic doesn’t allow the molecules to form a long chain when recycled, moreover this garbage bag disintegrates in sunlight becoming small fragments not visible to naked eyes. These fragments are responsible for the dying aquatic animals”, concludes Mayank.

Mayank further elucidates, “Plastic contributes to 13℅ of the total solid waste generated at homes. Use of biodegradable plastic garbage bags can help reduce plastic, it is recyclable and can also be composted in the compost pits as it undergoes microbial degradation and no industrial composting is required.” Biodegradable plastic packaging and bags pose an effective eco-friendly alternative to non-biodegradable plastics in the long run. How far we can use this sustainable alternative in place of conventional plastic is up to us. But this technology is surely worth watching out for.

*Feel free to leave your comments or questions on green or biodegradable plastics. We will continue to develop more resources and content on this subject in the coming time.

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