Toys made from non-degradable plastic at a stall in Jakarta. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

Fighting Plastic Tsunami With Natural Fiber

BY :JAYANTY NADA SHOFA

MAY 20, 2020

Jakarta. The coronavirus pandemic has reduced air pollution all over the world but has not had the same impact on plastic pollution. 

Around eight million tons of plastic are swept into our oceans every year, and Indonesia has become the second biggest contributor according to a 2015 study on marine waste. 

This plastic tsunami has put both marine and human life in great jeopardy.

The United Nations (UN) says more than 800 marine species worldwide regularly ingest microscopically sized plastic marine debris or get entangled in larger ones. 

Microplastics can also end up on our plates from the seafood we eat, potentially threatening our health.

Meanwhile, everyday items such as plastic bottles can take up to 450 years to fully degrade. Toothbrushes take even longer, 500 years, to degrade. The humble plastic bag takes 20 years.

Only 14 percent of the world's plastic packaging is recycled.

In response, Finnish research group VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has brought together 52 companies around the world to replace the plastic used in food packaging, textiles, construction and industries with a new alternative raw material, natural fiber.

Last month, the Piloting Alternatives for Plastics project kicked off with a lab research on finding a fiber-based material with the highest potential to be an alternative to plastic.

The group's next task is to bring the fiber products into commercial production.

VTT Vice President Jani Lehto said the project is also expected to help create a new understanding of bio-based fiber networks and a method to produce new types of recyclable materials that do not burden the environment.

The Piloting Alternatives for Plastics project is set to end on March 31, 2023, and has secured a funding of 6.7 million euros.

The funding comes from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), VTT and companies coordinated by the Regional Council of Central Finland.

Among the 52 companies partnering with VTT in developing the more eco-friendly material is Sumatra-based Indonesian pulp and paper producer, APRIL Group.

Through its operating arm Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP), the group has had a long-running commitment to sustainability in its day-to-day operations.

The resource-based company considers the UN's sustainable development goals (SDGs) as integral to its operations.

Along with PwC and the UN Development Programme, the company has identified three core goals directly linked to its business operations.

These goals are responsible production and consumption (SDG 12), climate action (SDG 13) and life on land (SDG 15).

APRIL Group gives out 1,500 reusable canvas tote bags for their employees. (Photo Courtesy of APRIL Group)
RAPP hands out 1,500 reusable canvas tote bags to their employees. (Photo courtesy of APRIL Group)

Before the pilot project began, APRIL Group had already been going full tilt at throttling plastic usage, starting with reducing plastic use at its Hotel Unigraha located within the RAPP compound in Pangkalan Kerinci, Riau, in 2018.

Having calculated that it was producing 400 kilograms of plastic waste every month, the hotel began to try to reduce the amount by no longer offering bottled mineral water in their rooms.

In exchange, guests can get water from dozens of dispensers spread throughout the hotel.

"At the hotel restaurant, we also replaced the plastic straws with eco-friendly paper ones. Even doing just these two things cut down our plastic waste to 250 kilograms," APRIL Corporate Affairs Director Agung Laksamana said.

The success spurred a plastic-free challenge involving 200 staff members at the company's Jakarta office.

The takeaway from the challenge was finding out there were 2,400 single-use plastic items at the office that can be replaced with more eco-friendly options. 

"The food court and supermarket inside the RAPP compound have also ditched single-use plastic bags. We've also given away 1,500 reusable canvas tote bags to our employees for grocery shopping," Agung said.

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