Bioplastic start-up begins green journey

August 08, 2021 - 09:13

Having worked in biopolymer research for more than a decade, Đoàn Văn Tùng in HCM City, began his adventure by founding the iGreen development company in 2020 – a start-up promoting bioplastic production as an alternative to polluting fossil-based plastic.

By Hoài Nam

Bioplastic beads produced by iGreen company, a start-up in HCM City.  The environment-friendly material will help boost non-plastic consumption and reduce plastic waste. Photo courtesy of Đoàn Văn Tùng 

Having worked in biopolymer research for more than a decade, Đoàn Văn Tùng in HCM City began his adventure by founding the iGreen development company in 2020 – a start-up promoting bioplastic production as an alternative to polluting fossil-based plastic.

It is one of only two bioplastic producers in Việt Nam providing completely biodegradable bags, straws, forks and plates from biostarch materials to the market as a substitute for single-use plastic, which contaminates the land and ocean.

The iGreen bioplastic product partially degrades in 12 weeks and completely after six months – in which 90 per cent is turned into water, carbon dioxide and biomass for improving nutrition in soil.

It was granted a European standard compost certificate by the TUV Austria bureau of inspection and certification.

“Plastic pollution has been a disaster in Việt Nam over the past decades, so our start-up was built as an alternative solution for reducing plastic,” Tùng said.

“Our product offers a healthy choice for communities reducing the use of single-use plastic that seriously caused pollution on land and in oceans.”

Tùng said the company’s technology had been used in providing bioplastic beads with the best price of VNĐ80,000 to 100,000 (US$3.5 to 4.3) per kg.

He said each kilo of iGreen bioplastic beads could produce 120 biodegradable bags with a thickness of 18 micrometres – 15 per cent higher than the same imported product.  

Straws are made from bioplastic materials such as the starch of cassava, maize and potatoes. Photo courtesy of Đoàn Văn Tùng 

The biopolymer researcher said the bioplastic product, which uses starch from maize and cassava, would be safe for both consumers and the environment, while the material had huge potential in Việt Nam.

Dr Phạm Phú Song Toàn, an environment scientist of the Đà Nẵng University of Technology and Education, said starch-based bioplastic and biodegradable products are safe as they degrade into water and carbon dioxide.

He said starch helped speed up the decomposition process of bioplastic products, but they should strictly control the mixture used in the production to ensure it is completely safe for humans.

Bioplastic products of iGreen company are on display at an exhibition in HCM City. Bioplastic straws, bags and plates can degrade within 12 weeks. Photo courtesy of Đoàn Văn Tùng 

A number of coffee shops have begun using bamboo straws, glass and stainless steel straws to reduce single-use plastic straws and cups, while glass straws, wooden spoons, forks, knives and coconut shell bowls have also become common.

Tùng said he hoped that bioplastic replacing single-use plastic and hazardous plastic would have great potential for domestic use and export for many years.

“The country’s Plastics Association reported that it produced 6.61 million tonnes for domestic use and export, of which packaging made up a 36 per cent share, for total revenue of US$22.18 billion in 2020. If the country could contribute only one per cent to replace the plastic packaging, it could produce 20,000 tonnes per year,” Tùng said.

“Meanwhile, European bioplastics forecast that the green alternative will increase from 21 million tonnes in 2020 to 28 million tonnes in 2025, and reach 36 per cent growth in the next five years.”

He added that Việt Nam’s plastic industry had been seeking plastic alternative technology solutions from environment-friendly and degradable materials in replacing plastic products.

He said iGreen bioplastic products including bags, straws, plates and garbage bags had been distributed to 30 agents, restaurant and hotel chains nationwide since early 2020.

Đoàn Văn Tùng shows bioplastic straws at a restaurant in HCM City. Tùng and his partners began bioplastic production from cassava and maize starch to help reduce plastic pollution. Photo courtesy of Đoàn Văn Tùng 

Nguyễn Ngọc Lý, director of the Centre for Environment and Community Research, said Việt Nam discharged 19,000 tonnes of rubbish every day, of which 16 per cent was plastic waste but only educational awareness, habits and responsibility had been promoted.

She said the use of plastic bags had grown substantially, and could not easily be phased out in daily lifestyles.

Nguyễn Thu Trang, deputy director of Greenhub, a centre for supporting green development, said Việt Nam had begun building awareness of plastic pollution among consumers as well as collection and recycling.

But an integrated solution in dealing with plastic pollution had yet to be built in the country, while a plan for fighting plastic pollution was still on paper, she said.

“Bans on single-use plastic are rarely seen at many destinations, while plastic alternatives were scattered,” Trang said.

Trang said environment protection tax on plastic was only VNĐ50,000 per kilo, but plastic bags were sold with an even lower tax.

She suggested that a tax should be levied on plastic bag consumption, which could help change the consumer habit of using too much plastic packaging.

She said that bioplastic and degradable production needed supportive policies from the government in reducing single-use plastic and hazardous plastic pollution.

A woman shows a canvas bag in Côn Đảo Island, off the coast of Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu. Reuseable and environment-friendly products are being used in the fight against plastic pollution. Photo courtesy WWF-Vietnam 

Tùng has been calling for investment for iGreen bioplastic production, which he and other partners have been building for decades.

He said he hoped bioplastic would boom as plastic manufacturers changed to environment-friendly and sustainable production.

Tùng said iGreen put its slogan ‘I Am Not Plastic’ on every product to emphasize the tough fight against plastic waste. VNS