Plastic will survive forever in landfill, or, if it is burnt, as it is in Japan, it can release toxic and carcinogenic particles into the atmosphere.
But a small Australian company called Plantic says it has a solution — just add water and the problem will disappear in front of your eyes.
Plantic markets plastic trays made from plants.
The patented formula comprises 90 percent corn starch and a number of other organic materials, including water, fatty acid and oil.
Starch-based plastics are not a new concept, says Plantic’s business development manager Mark Fink, but Plantic is different.
“If I do this,” he says pouring water on the product, “and count to three it starts to disappear, which is exciting.”
Holes start appearing in the plastic biscuit tray.
“It’s not dissolving, it’s dispersing,” says Fink, who compares the end product to the starchy substance left over when you cook rice.
But if you think a disappearing plastic is hard to swallow, have you ever tried eating normal plastic? Because you can eat Plantic.
“If it (Plantic) is eaten – and I eat a lot of it in front of plastics people — then it’s not harmful,” says Fink.
“But we don’t produce it as a food product, so for that reason we don’t eat it in public and we prefer not to promote it as an edible material,” he says.
Plantic conforms to the European Standard of biodegradability and its manufacturers are confident it will pass the strict Japanese test when the company makes a move into the Japanese market within the next year.
When placed on the compost heap, Plantic will disappear within three months — releasing water into the soil and carbon dioxide into the air.
“When you can see that it can actually go away and get recycled into the environment and go back to where it came from — you know it came from corn — people can understand that and I think that’s what makes this a good product to work with,” says Fink.
And of course companies understand the good publicity that such a message brings.
“Every big company in the world has an annual report, and on the fifth or sixth page of every annual report, (is a section) about ‘what a wonderful company we are to the environment,'” Fink says.
“But I imagine it’s very hard to find stories to write about because in the end most companies aren’t focused on the environment, and for that reason we do get a good hearing from senior management,” he says.
A disappearing, environmentally friendly plastic may be enough to attract media attention, but it is not the real “wow factor” for companies, however.
The real surprise is its price, and that is where Plantic is ahead of all competition, according to Greg Lonergan, professor of biotechnology at Swinburne University in Melbourne.
Lonergan was involved in the development of the Plantic plastic and he heads a biotechnology group that tests the biodegradability of plastics.