Oil Palm Bio-Plastic: A Substitute For Nondegradable Plastic

Indonesian oil palm plantations provide raw materials to produce more environmentally friendly bio-plastics, replacing plastics made from petroleum oil that are not environmentally friendly

Plastics are widely used in various industries such as packaging, food and beverage industry, automotive industry, children’s toy industry, furniture and household appliances, and shopping bags. Plastics demand in Indonesia is around 5 million tons per year with an average growth of 5 percent year.

 Plastic raw materials that exist today namely polypropylene and polyproethylene are derived chemical products from petroleum, so not only affecting our health, they are also toxic, so difficult to decompose naturally (non degradable), and polluting the environment. Hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic annually are thrown away into the environment. Indonesia is currently the second largest country (after China) that pollutes the environment with dirty plastics.

In addition to polluting the environment of Indonesia, about 50 percent of plastic raw materials produced in Indonesia are still imported. The amount of foreign exchange income drained to import the gross plastics reaches about US $ 7 billion annually. It is already polluting the environment, detrimental to our health, yet it is draining huge foreign exchange income, too.

Now is the time to put an end to the production and use of the dirty plastic and switch to bio-plastics from palm oil. Indonesia has about 11 million hectares of palm plantations and produces about 35 million tons palm oil (CPO and PKO) per year. Other than palm oil, it also produces about 167 million tons per year of dry biomass materials in the form of empty bunches, fruit fibers, stems, leaf lids and shells that are available throughout the year. The biomass, especially empty bunches and fruit fibers, have already been collected at the palm oil factory, so it does not cost money to collect them.

Biomass and palm oil are raw materials needed to produce bio-plastics. Many universities and research institutes have been researching this palm- based bio-plastic. If the government seriously supports this palm-based bio-plastic start-up, it does not take long for Indonesia to be able to use bio-plastics as a substitute for the dirty plastics. Only from palm biomass alone, it is not difficult to produce 6 million tons of bio-plastics every year.

Palm-based bio-plastics have advantages over plastics from petroleum chemicals. Bio-plastics can decompose naturally (biodegradable) so it won’t to pollute the environment. Because it is made from organic material, it is not toxic or detrimental to our health, either. In addition, palm-based bio-plastics, all of which are domestically produced, will save up to 7 billion dollars worth of plastic imports. Even, it is possible for Indonesia to become one of the world’s exporters of bio-plastic seeds.

Now, it is up to the government’s seriousness to support the development of this bio-plastic industry. Experts in our universities have been involved in this bio-plastic project. If there is policy support and sufficient financing, it will make it faster to eventually produce this bio-plastics. Environmental NGOs that have been concerned with environmental sustainability also need to support the development of this palm oil-based bio-plastic industry.

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