Roberto Astete and Cristian Olivares, two researchers from Chile, are the masterminds behind a new biodegradable plastic bag. They discovered the formula while experimenting with biodegradable detergent. The team used PVA, a polyvinyl alcohol that dissolves in water, as their chemical base and then replaced the oil derivatives to ensure the bag would degrade over time.
Traditional plastic remains between 150 and 500 years in the environment and ours only lasts five minutes
It is the oil derivatives in plastic bags that mean they do not break down but instead remain in the environment, causing serious harm to marine life and natural environments.
“Our product comes from a limestone that does not hurt the environment,” explains Astete, the general director of SoluBag, a company that hopes to start selling the bags in Chile from October.
The Chilean government has launched various initiatives to reduce the use of plastics. From August, it will become one of the first countries in Latin America to ban the use of traditional plastic bags in stores. The idea was first put forward under the former government of president Michelle Bachelet, who proposed a ban on plastic in coastal regions, and it was extended by current President Sebastián Piñera to the whole country.
With the eyes of the press upon them, Astete and Olivares demonstrate two products: plastic bags that dissolve in cold water and reusable canvas bags that break down in hot water. “What remains in the water is carbon,” says Astete, which medical tests show “has no effect on the human body.” To prove that what is left behind in warm water is “harmless,” he drinks a few glasses of the water.
“The main difference between traditional plastic and ours is that traditional plastic remains between 150 and 500 years in the environment and ours only lasts five minutes. You can decide when to destroy it,” argues Astete, adding that “today the recycling machine could be your saucepan or washing machine.”