5 Oct 2017

Cassava offers Pacific alternative to traditional plastic bags

8:28 am on 5 October 2017

Plastic bags made from cassava starch are being considered as an alternative to traditional plastic bags in the Pacific.

A number of Pacific Island states have banned plastic bags, amidst a wider regional effort to reduce ocean waste.

Indonesia recently offered Pacific countries help with technology to produce bio-degradable plastic made from cassava, a crop grown throughout the region.

Indonesian officials say the bags can easily dissolve in warm water.

A New Zealand-based scientist specialising in biopolymers said depending on how they are used, cassava bags could have merit.

Dr Florian Graichen said international standards would first have to be met.

"If it's certified and accepted, then you would fulfil either the bio-degradability or compostability standards. And I think then you can look at it as a credible alternative. Having said that, you wouldn't want to encourage just plastic bags being thrown away in any shape, form or whatsoever," he said.

Regional leaders at last month's Pacific Islands Forum summit in Apia pledged efforts to reduce plastic waste in the ocean, and appear to be showing interest in the biopolmer products coming online globally.

Dr Graichen, who is with the New Zealand crown research institute Scion, was hesitant to attribute the cassava bags as an answer to the massive problems with plastic waste, but suggested it could be better option to a plastic bag that never degrades.

"But again you wouldn't want to have that simply just lying around and flying around. The first thing you want to look at is how can you avoid it, regardless of what the bag is," he said.

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Cassava Photo: 123RF