Biodegradable, compostable plastic carrier and food bags will begin trending in South Africa as more shoppers turn their backs on environmentally toxic single use plastic bags that choke marine life to death and pollute the planet.
This is the view of Andrew Smith, co-founder of the Really Great Material Company (RGMC) who says that simply recycling conventional plastic is not a solution to reducing plastic waste and its increasingly destructive impact on the environment.
“Plastic in the form of bags and wrapping, eventually ends up in landfills and the ocean. Bioplastic products on the other hand provide an alternative that is biodegradable and compostable. They come from nature and can be returned to nature.”
Smith’s comments follow Pick n Pay’s initiative to gauge customer reaction to the new products provided by the RGMC in a trial run at one its Cape Town V&A Waterfront flagship store. The retailer replaced all plastic carrier, barrier and fruit and vegetable bags with compostable bags supplied by the Really Great Material Company to mark World Plastic Bag Free Day on July 3. The bioplastic bags were given free to customers on the day.
“We hope this initiative will bring bioplastic products into the mainstream of discussion on viable alternatives to conventional plastic products,” said Andrew.
The Really Great Material Company has secured sole South African rights to import a high-grade resin which is used to manufacture biodegradable and compostable plastic products. Known as Mater-Bi, the resin is produced by an Italian company, Novamont, which is internationally regarded as an industry leader in bioplastics. The resin has already been used by a leading South African conventional plastic bag manufacturer to produce bioplastic bags with only minor adjustments to its machinery.
Unlike conventional plastic products which are manufactured from petroleum oil, bioplastic products are derived from renewable resources such as starch, cellulose and vegetable oils and contain no polyethylene or polypropylene, explains Smith who established the Really Great Material Company with Andrew Pollock and Arthur Williams in Cape Town a year ago.
Pick n Pay director for Transformation, Suzanne Ackerman-Berman, said at the launch of the company’s initiative that the bioplastic bags piloted with its customers were strong and reusable and similar to normal plastic bags. “The important difference is that these trial bags are also home compostable. They are designed to collect organic waste, such as your kitchen scraps, and will compost with the organic waste in a home compost environment.
“The bag will break down after three to six months – depending on the composting system – as opposed to the reported 500 to 1,000 years for plastic bags. Customers can also bring the bags back to our stores and we will take them to a Pick n Pay composting facility.”
Welcoming Pick n Pay’s willingness to give further consideration to the use of alternatives such as bioplastic bags, Smith says the Really Great Material Company will continue to engage not only with major retailers but also with consumers.
“We plan to facilitate, or participate in, localised public-private-community partnerships to promote the use and value of compostable bioplastic products,” he said.
“Consumer education is the key. Consumers need to fully understand the difference between bioplastics and petroleum-based plastics. They need to fully appreciate the pollution being caused by conventional plastic products, with the most topical example being the millions of tons of single-use plastic waste now threatening marine life in the world’s oceans.”