Alternative to plastic bags

According to Greenpeace, 26.5 billion plastic bags are annually used in Russia, accounting for 5% of the global consumption. While they can take up to 700 years to decompose, they are very rarely recycled or reused in Russia. Plastic bags have become a real disaster for the planet, and chemists are busy looking for an alternative. A Nizhny Novgorod startup, EcoPack, has invented a completely biodegradable bio-film, which contains no petroleum products, no more expensive than conventional polyethylene. The company plans to build a 60,000 bags-per-month plant this year; its plans include opening several such facilities, including abroad, the company’s CEO and main owner Dmitry Talanov told Invest Foresight.

Deals with trash and fertilizes soil

The biodegradable package film invented by EcoPack is made from potatoes and other food materials. The inventor of the technology and one of the co-owners of the project, Ivan Zakharov, is a graduate student at one of Kazan universities.

All of the components used are edible and therefore do not harm the environment, Talanov says without disclosing the technology. The film is produced via extrusion and injection molding. EcoPack bags decompose in several minutes to several hours in the natural environment under the influence of water, oxygen and bacteria. They can be a real alternative to plastic bags. In addition to shopping bags, the biofilm can be used to make fast food packaging, plates and other household goods, and children’s products (such as feeding bottles); it can be used in agriculture (for example, to cover crops), as well as to make shoe covers for hospitals, etc. All these goods can be recycled through composting in the soil without any special conditions.

EcoPack bags are not just safe for the soil and water – on the contrary, they fertilize the soil. They can be composted in the soil under natural conditions, without the release of methane, which is harmful to human health.

Eco plastic, not bio plastic

Biodegradable bags as an invention date back to the 1990s. For instance, the Canadian company EPI claimed that its oxo-degradableplastics disintegrated completely. However, such bags are made with the use of petroleum products and do not disintegrate, but turn into dust. The EcoPack startup strives to create completely harmless bags. The company constantly emphasizes that it does not use petroleum products and produces eco plastics, not bio plastics.

“Bio bags are marketing fraud,” Talanov says.

It took the startup almost nine years to receive first investments for the plant launch. They do not reveal the sums or the name of the investor. The project is supposed to pay off within 2-6 years.

Set pricing to beat competition

EcoPack is currently considering several sites for the future plants. According to Talanov, the company has received proposals from Vienna (Austria), Dijon (France), Kazakhstan and Russia – in Kazan, Perm and Nizhny Novgorod. This month, the first plant with a capacity of 60,000 bags per month will be built. Of course, this is nothing compared to billions of plastic bags used in Russia, but this is only the beginning. In 2020, EcoPack plans to build several more plants depending on how many investors they will reach agreements with. The company has received patents in Russia.

Such major international companies as McDonald’s, KFC, Ikea, Burger King, Obi, Auchan, Metro and Russian retailer Lenta are interested in the biodegradable film.

EcoPack’s competitors are Germany’s Biotec, Italy’s Novamont and US’s Loliware. At the same time, the prime cost of 1 kg of EcoPack-produced biofilm is $1, while foreign companies estimate $2-3 per 1 kg. This might become a competitive advantage for the Nizhny Novgorod startup. In addition, Russia does not have any similar enterprises yet.

According to the European Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites, 762 tons of biodegradable plastics were produced in 2016. In 2019, the number is expected to reach 1.3 million tons. We are witnessing a biodegradable plastics boom: single-use plastic items will be banned in Europe by 2025.

By Natalia Kuznetsova

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