'Melting bag' that could be the answer to nagging plastics menace

 Director of Ecosave Technologies Daniel Wanjuki (right) demonstrates to Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Forestry Soipan Tuiya (left) and Nakuru Governor Susan Kihika (second left) how biodegradable bag, made of starch, dissolves in water, during the World Environment Day celebration at Lake Nakuru National Park in Nakuru on June 5, 2023. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

It looks like an ordinary single-use plastic bag, stretches and crumbles like it but interestingly melts into a milky substance upon contact with water.

The innovative biodegradable carrier bag, which is made from starch, has now made an entry into the Kenyan market. Environmentalists now laud the water-soluble bag as an alternative and new solution in the fight to stem plastic pollution.

“It just looks like any other ordinary bag, but it dissolves in water. It is biodegradable. It is just starch pressed into a film,” Daniel Wanjuki, the director of Ecosave Technologies, which currently manufactures the product, says.

They dissolve and do not leave toxic or polluting residues in the environment, unlike plastic bags.

According to Wanjuki, the bag dissolves and does not leave toxic or polluting residues in the environment, unlike plastic bags.

“Besides plastic pollution being a menace by itself, the biggest danger is that it kills livestock and even wildlife when they feed on them. With this biodegradable bag, it causes no harm even if livestock feed on it because it is just made from starch,” Wanjuki said.

Wanjuki says that the bags have been certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards and is currently being sold to several organisations and hotels.

Team Baba, from Swahili Pot, demonstrates during a plastic management awareness walk from Treasury Square to Pembe Za Ndovu in Mombasa on May 6, 2023. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

“Although these bags physically look like the single-use plastics, we label these ones as biodegradable for easier identification,” Gerald Githinji, an official from Ecosave said.

He said the bags are currently being produced locally and could solve the challenge posed by pollution.

While the Kenyan government has marked six years after the ban on single-use plastic bags, stakeholders are still calling for solutions to fully embrace a plastic-free environment.

The bags were showcased as part of the solutions to the plastic pollution menace during World Environment Day.

Environment Cabinet Secretary Soipan Tuya lauded local innovative solutions, noting that the event provided a platform for showcasing them while creating awareness and elevating the environmental agenda.

However, she said it is worrying that single-use plastic bags were still in the market even after being banned in 2017.

“It is a smack in the face that after many years of banning the single-use plastics, Kenya as a global leader in environmental conservation, we still have single-use plastics which are illegal,” he said.

 A heap of plastic bottles in Ngong River that passes through the Mukuru slums in Nairobi, on September 12, 2021. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

She said part of the efforts the government is putting in place is currently the formulation of policies that will ensure that will affect the producer responsibility regulations to make sure each manufacturer has an end to ensure recycling and reduce waste. Policies on the segregation of waste, she adds, are also in the pipeline.

According to UNEP, over 430 million tonnes of plastic annually, two-thirds of which are short-lived products that soon become waste.

“Plastic is made from fossil fuels – the more plastic we produce, the more fossil fuel we burn, and the worse we make the climate crisis. But we have solutions,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in his World Environment Day message.

But while countries are battling the challenge and racing to find solutions, a recent UNEP report titled, Turning off the Tap reveals that plastic pollution could reduce by 80 per cent by 2040 if countries and companies make deep policy and market shifts using existing technologies.

Biodegradable bags

The entry of the biodegradable bags came when environmentalists criticised the influx of non-woven bags, which they say, most are made from products that are not biodegradable and pose another disposal challenge.

James Wakibia, an environmentalist, said that despite being categorized as recyclable, non-woven bags are problematic to recycle.

“These bags are made from a material called polypropylene or polyester, characterized by thin fibres that tear easily and can contaminate food products with microfibers. This poses potential health concerns, not to mention the severe impact on our environment. Landfills are overflowing with these bags, as non-woven polypropylene is not biodegradable and can take years to break down.”

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