We are excited to welcome a new type of packaging material to the Lecka family: cassava starch based bioplastic. In this post we would like to elaborate more why we choose this kind of material and share our views on it.
Where Lecka's founding started with the banana leaf, we were aware that we need a packaging with longer shelf life so more people can enjoy our healthy products. We did not want to use traditional plastic packaging that might end up polluting Vietnam's beautiful nature in the long term. After almost one year of research and testing of dozens of different materials, we settled on a cassava starch-based material that gives our products a 3 month shelf life.
Our packaging material consists of 40-50% cassava starch and 50-60% modified polyethylene. That makes it a so-called 'bioplastic'. The idea behind bioplastics is that the biobased content, in this case the cassava starch, accelerates the biodegration of the material - from tens of years of traditional plastic to only a few months of bioplastic. Tests by international certification institutions have shown that our material decomposes within 180 days to 92%. A few more months are necessary for full biodegradation.
Bioplastics have gotten more and more attention in recent years as it got hailed as a solid alternative to traditional plastic. As with every innovation, one got to carefully evaluate the pros and cons for the relevant context. We like to provide full transparency and share our views on benefits and disadvantages.
What are the benefits of bioplastic?
1) It is biodegradable, which means it can be broken down completely into water, carbon dioxide and biomass by microorganisms under the right conditions (heat, moisture, bacteria).1 Vietnam's tropical climate is condusive for such a biodegredation process. It can be added to any home & industrial composting facility where biodegradation process takes place within months.2
2) In a country like Vietnam where only 22% of plastic gets recycled, and the rest ends up in landfill, and quite likely in nature or gets burned, any material that degrades faster than plastic means we have to deal with less long term pollution.
3) Cassava is most widely grown to produce sustainable and cheap source of starch globally. Especially Southeast Asia is one of the highest producing cassava starch producing regions in the world.3
4) It raises consumer awareness that alternatives to traditional plastics are possible in food packaging. It creates trust that new type of packaging still keeps the product safe and fresh. That awareness and trust might help to change consumer behaviour over time and leads to more demand for eco-friendly products.
What are the disadvantages of bioplastic?
1) Consumers might believe that bioplastic can be thrown into nature where it miraculously disappears. It does not!
2) If the bioplastic ends up in nature, it can still harm flora and fauna. The plastic content of the material would endanger wildlife as the biodegradation only happens after some time.3 Please never throw your Lecka bioplastic wrapper into nature!
3) If bioplastic ends up in the plastic recycling stream, it weakens the recycled plastic output with its biobased content. Please always dispose your bioplastic wrapper as organic waste, e.g. with food waste, in your trash!
As part of our core values, we believe in innovation and in trying out new materials that challenge traditional plastic. While we are clearly aware of the disadvantages of bioplastic, we decided to use bioplastic for now as it provides a good alternative in the Vietnamese context. The lack of proper waste management systems in Vietnam didn't give us confidence to add more traditional plastic to the market. Also, we like to raise awareness with consumers of the many alternatives that exist to plastic packaging, e.g. banana leaves and bioplastic, and shwo that change is happening.
We continue to research better solutions and always welcome ideas from the community.
2: Massardier-Nageotte V., Pestre C., T. Cruard-Pradet, and Bayard R., “Aerobic and anaerobic biodegradability of polymer films and physico-chemical characterization,” Polym. Degrad. Stab., vol. 91, no. 3, pp. 620–627, 2006.