Innovation That Matters

| Photo source Chemolex

A bioplastic made out of invasive plants


This bioplastic is replacing plastic in food packaging and nappies to cut single-use pollution

Spotted: According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), plastic makes up over 10 per cent of solid waste generated across Kenya, which equates to around 966,000 tonnes of plastic every year. And research conducted by Chemolex on single-use plastics found in the River Mathare in Nairobi revealed that disposable nappies make up 43 per cent of the solid waste in the river, while single-use plastic packaging made up 29 per cent of the pollution. The company, which is based in Kisumu, Kenya, is attempting to eliminate both of these waste forms through the creation of its bioplastic alternative.

“Biopactic” is the latest product developed by the company, which aims to completely replace the use of single-use plastic materials (specifically polypropylene and polyethylene) in the manufacturing of nappies, food packaging, and other product containers. As Chemolex found, many of these plastic-based products end up being thrown into waterways, largely due to poor recycling infrastructure and other more sustainable plastic alternatives being too expensive and low-quality. And this waste does more than just make an area look unappealing, with used nappies also leaching harmful Dioxins, heavy metals, and other toxic substances into the soil and water. Chemolex’s Biopactic, however, is both affordable and eco-friendly.

The main raw material that is used in the manufacture of the bioplastic material is an invasive plant species called the water hyacinth. So, the benefit of its manufacture is multifaceted: it removes an invasive species from Lake Victoria without impacting food scarcity as the hyacinth isn’t edible, and it creates a 100 per cent biodegradable and recyclable plastic alternative.

First, the invasive plant is chopped up into smaller pieces and pretreated with steam. Then, a chemical treatment using bio-enzymes eventually breaks the hyacinth down into succinate and organic lactic acid, which can then be used as raw material to create the bioplastic.

The Canadian government and social enterprise Challenge Works identified the inventiveness of Chemolex’s bioplastic bags, awarding the company Ksh 103,847,250 (around €678,000) in the 2023 Afri-Plastics Challenge.

Springwise has also spotted other sustainable bioplastics such as one made from sugarcane and another made using macroalgae.

Written By: Archie Cox




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