The impacts of global plastic use have reached an alarming level. Based on the latest data, 9 billion tonnes of plastics have been produced since the 1950s, creating 7 billion tonnes of waste. Plastic waste not only damages the environment and threaten animal life but also harms human populations.
One of the most dangerous elements of plastic waste is tiny pieces of debris known as microplastics. These are damaging the environment, mostly the ocean, and in much greater amounts than originally thought. A recent study shows the number of microplastics has reached up to 51 trillion particles, or 236,000 metric tonnes, globally. These tiny particles can end up in people’s stomachs via drinking water or eating seafood, which could present health risks.
Various attempts to minimise plastic use have been introduced. One involves developing plastic materials, known as biodegradable plastics or bioplastics, that decompose naturally in the environment.
My research aims to show how seaweed can be the best material for use in bioplastics. This article argues that Indonesia can play a key role in developing seaweed-based plastics.
Strong demand for bioplastics
The global bioplastic production capacity will increase to 6.1 million tonnes in 2021 from 4.2 million tonnes in 2016 due to people’s increasing awareness of eco-friendly products.
People have started using bioplastics in their daily lives, with uses ranging from shopping bags and disposable housewares to electronics.
Big brands such as Coca-Cola, Heinz, Unilever, Nestle, Danone and Nike have started using bioplastics for their packaging.
Why seaweed for bioplastics?
Seaweed is so far the best candidate for bioplastics first of all, cause it is cheap. Unlike other terrestrial plants, seaweed can grow without fertilisers. It does not take up huge space on land as it grows offshore. By using seaweed for bioplastics, the production of agricultural commodities for food will remain intact, so no food price hikes nor food crisis will occur.
Indonesia’s key role
Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world and two-thirds of its territory is water. Indonesia is one of the world’s largest seaweed producers, accounting for more than a third of global seaweed production. Indonesia’s seaweed exports were valued at around US$200 million in 2014, with production reportedly increasing at about 30% per year.