Chilean Engineers may have found the solution to plastic pollution which is suffocating ecosystems all over the world. The answer is in environmentally-friendly plastic bags that dissolve in water. The engineers’ secret? Replacing the oil with limestone in the chemical formula.
'Our product is a derivative of limestone rock which has no effect on the environment,' Roberto Astete, director of the SoluBag enterprise, explained to AFP in a press conference in Santiago. 'It’s like making bread,' he added. 'To make bread, you need flour and other ingredients. Our flour is polyvinyl alcohol and other ingredients, approved by the FDA (the agency in charge of food safety and medication in the United States), which means we were able to create different plastic products' with this material.
During the presentation of the product, on Tuesday the 24th of July 2018 in Santiago, Roberto Astete put the bags to the test. The SoluBag enterprise presented two bags; one, a classic; and the other, made of reusable fabric. The latter, being more resistant, dissolved in hot water, while the first only needed cold water. Once the bags had dissolved in front of the journalists’ eyes, Mr Astete stated that 'carbon remains in the water, which has no effect on the human body,' before proving his word by drinking the water in question.
A worldwide scourge
If bio-degradable and/or bio-sourced plastic bags already exist, they are far from being 100% ecological. The problem remains with the fragments, invisible to the naked eye, that are deposited when they disintegrate. Therefore, in the seas and oceans, this plastic could be found ingested by animals 'long before it has had the necessary amount of time to biodegrade (…) thus posing the same threat to sea life as conventional plastic,' notes Fiona Nicholls, from UK Greenpeace, on the matter.
'The big difference between traditional plastic and our plastic is that the former can remain between 150 to 500 years in nature and ours disappears after only five minutes. We decide when we destroy it,' adds Mr Astete. 'At present, you can recycle [the bags] in a saucepan or a washing machine.'
They are now hoping to have their product on the market by October, where production costs are similar to those of plastic bags. This provides an alternative option in this country where the use of plastic bags has been forbidden since 2017 in hundreds of coastal towns.
In a recently published study, the UN pointed to that fact that less than 20% of the 9 billion tonnes of plastic products worldwide are recycled or incinerated. The rest ended up in landfill or an environment where they will take thousands of years to decompose. At least 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped in the sea each year. This plastic pollution is endangering sea life: in Thailand, a pilot whale died after having swallowed more than 80 plastic bags.