Compostable alternatives to plastic products, such as food service utensils, take-out trays, single-use retail bags, might be more hype than help in Malaysia, where they are thought to be adding to problems like growing methane emissions

Bdebbie Garcia

Bdebbie Garcia

Oct 26, 2011 – Industry Intelligence

LOS ANGELES , October 26, 2011 () – Compostable alternatives to plastic products are not necessarily easing Malaysia’s growing landfill problems, as degradation can take years and these products could contribute to methane emissions, reported The Star on Oct. 25.

Biodegradability of the items depends on whether they require microbial action to decompose, or they don’t, such as France-based Carrefour SA’s shopping bags, which are oxodegradable.

Both Return 2 Green and Greatpac offer products that need moisture, warmth, oxygen and microbial action to decompose, either partially or completely.

Penang, Malaysia-based Return 2 Green makes clamshell boxes from agricultural waste such as sugarcane bagasse that “return to nature at 180 days of composting.”

Greatpac, which is headquartered in Selangor, Malaysia, has a polystyrene (PS) clamshell with additives that make it biodegradable under conditions with low or no oxygen (anaerobic), The Star reported.

The company also has a range of bio-based disposable tablewear called Jasa Eco. The line is made from 70% corn starch and 30% conventional polypropylene (PP) and can be expected to decompose within five years in a landfill.

Reusable tableware is specified by the Singapore National Environment Agency for catering services when possible.

In Penang, retailers are prohibited from handing out free plastic bags, and food sellers in the municipality’s council-operated centers cannot use PS clamshells and plates. The move might be replicated by Selangor, reported The Star.

Phee Boon Poh, Penang’s executive councilor for the environment, believes that biodegradable foodware will degrade in landfills and ease waste management problems there.

However, using biodegradable foodware just substitutes one disposable product with another, said Datuk Dr Nadzri Yahaya, director general of the National Solid Waste Management Dept.

Biodegradable food containers now available take two to five years to decompose, said Douglas Tan, senior manager at Greatpac, although the company stipulates that its products take less time to degrade under local conditions than under those found in North America, The Star reported.

U.S.-based NatureWorks LLC makes a polylactic plastic from corn-derived sources that will not biodegrade in American landfills “due to the low oxygen concentration and drop in temperature.” These products are not sold in Malaysia.

A big problem with waste management in Malaysia is methane. Food contributes 53% to the methane being emitted by the country’s landfills, according to the national greenhouse gas inventory.

Disposable tableware, even biodegradable types, is seen as contributing to this problem, reported The Star.

The primary source of this article is The Star, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, on Oct. 25, 2011.

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