According to the United Nations, 10 million plastic bags are used every minute in the world. It is a real ecological disaster because most of them piled up in landfills, oceans or pipelines. A 2018 U.N. report art that this material, which is one of the most produced in the world, is going to become a massive global health issue.
Chile, one of the most powerful economy of Latin America, want to take the lead on plastic pollution. This country is the first in South America to forbid plastic bags use. Some solutions already exists, as compostable bags, but unfortunately there is no compost bin in Chile…
In Santiago, the political and economical capital of Chile, a private company called Solubag developed an alternative to plastic and compostable bags. They achieved to design a “plastic” bag without oil and make it ecological because 100% biodegradable in 5 minutes in water.
The idea comes from Roberto Astete and Alejandro Castro, respectively an engineer and a lawyer. After 4 years of researches, they found a solution to produce a plastic bag in that oil is replaced by a derivative of limestone rocks. This material is used to generate a polyvinyl alcohol, essential in the composition of the bag. This chemical formula is not dangerous for humans and environment because after dissolution only carbon remains, without any effect on the human body. This raw material is not invented at all, since it is the same material as capsules that contain drugs, which exists for several tens years. With this type of bags (video), we can now recycle it in his pan or washing machine. It is even possible to drink it !
The big difference between traditional plastic and this dissolvable one is that the first remains between 150 and 500 years in the nature whereas the Solubag only remains few minutes. We can decide when we destroy it. Furthermore, this big is perfectly adapted to new regulation in Chile about plastic bag use forbid because it does not contain oil derivatives anymore.
Two different types of bags are now produced. The first one looks like a classic plastic bag, has the same mechanical characteristics for the same uses and disappears after less than 5 minutes in cold water with shaking. The second one is a reusable canvas bag much stronger which dissolved in hot water in few minutes. These bags are designed in Chile and today produced in China. This innovative technology has been patented, many others applications for this material can be implemented.
Its initial price was relatively high but it is now accessible thanks to the improvement of the production process, its value has been divided by five and can be available on the market. You can find some since last October at a normal cost of a plastic bag made of polyethylene.
WHAT NOW ?
Solubag received the Singularity U award of Chili Summit 2018, as a change actor. The team has been invited in the Silicon Valley (US), where they will spend 10 weeks in the NASA research center to plan the development of the company and launch their product worldwide (US, Mexico, Europe and China) at a competitive price.
Solubag has planned also to diversify their product range. A lot of plastic objects alternatives can be designed with this dissolvable material: straws, jackets, shoes protection, nappies…
As an efficient alternative for plastic, this kind of innovative products can reduce drastically plastic pollution in oceans and on the ground. It is clear this plastic pollution issue is more and more considered and fought, especially for health and biodiversity concerns. The plastic pollution issue has to be tackled from the source, that means multiply solutions to end plastic even if there are more and more cleaning initiatives. One remaining challenge is to convince the consumer to use these new products and to coordinate all these initiatives.