Palm Oil-Based Bioplastics Become an Alternative Solution to Substitutes Conventional Plastics
There is no doubt that plastic has become an essential part of human life. With its flexibility, durability, versatility, and competitive price, the use of plastic has increase along with the increasing needs of people and industry. More than 40% of plastics is used for packaging purposes and the rest is used for building and construction applications, textiles, furniture products, and others.
However, behind the large role of plastic in human life, it’s also become a pollutant that is harmful to ecosystems and human health. Conventional plastics are made from gasses and fossil fuels refining which are not classified as non-biological compounds, this is cause they’re very difficult to decompose (non-biodegradable). Conventional plastics are estimated to take 100 to 500 years to decompose completely, so with a long time to be decomposed resulting in plastic wastes that will pollute the soil, rivers, seas, and even the air.
It is also estimated that in 2050, there will be more plastic waste in the sea than fish. The impact will threaten the sustainability of marine biota because it can injure and can be eaten by animals such as fish, whales, and turtles. Burning plastic wastes can also contaminates the soil and become a source of carbon emissions that pollute the air. In addition, this plastic waste also has the potential to split into small particles or called microplastic with a size of 0.3-0.5 millimeters, which has the opportunity to enter the body of organism including humans, and can cause various diseases such as cancer, stroke and respiratory disease.
Indonesia also “crowned” as the second-largest producer of plastic wastes in marine, after China. Therefore, the Government of Indonesia through the program of prohibit the use of single-use plastic packaging in shopping centers and convenience stores in several regions, it’s hoped to reduce the problem of plastic wastes in Indonesia. However, this program is considered not to be a solution to the problem of plastic wastes. The reason is based on BPS data, plastic wastes in Indonesia has reached of 64 million tons/year.
Moreover currently, there is a discussion about the use of single-use gallon packaging which is considered to be a new problem can cause more accumulation of plastic wastes in Indonesia. Therefore, it’s necessary to find a solution for reducing the use of plastics so that wastes will also be reduced.
One of the alternatives solutions to the problem of plastic waste is replacing conventional plastics with biodegradable plastics (bioplastics). Bioplastics are eco-friendly plastics that naturally can be easily degraded so that after they are used up and discarded, they will be broken down by microorganisms without leaving toxic substances.
One of the organic materials that can be used for making bioplastics is oil palm biomass namely empty fruit bunches (EFB). This products contains a lot of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin, so it is potential and suitable as a raw material for bioplastics. One of the chemical compounds that can be produced from EFB’s cellulose is lactic acid, which is the main raw material in the manufacture of biodegradable polymers in the form of lactic polymers (PLA). These polymers can be used as an alternative to conventional polymers such as Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polythylene tetephthalate (PET), maupun polystyrene (PS).
Based on LIPI research, PLA from EFB which is rich in cellulose and hemicellulose as a source of glucose which has great potential to be converted into lactic acid through a fermentation process by bacteria, and then the lactic acid is polymerized into PLA. Not only from EFB, PLA can also be obtained from glycerin as a joint product for palm-biodiesel.
The latest research from IPB also produces environmentally friendly bioplastics based on EFB biomass through the application of nanotechnology in cellulose. The application of this technology can improve the mechanical characteristics of bioplastic polymers so that they can produce bioplastic products with better quality than similar products on the market.
Poly-3-hydroxy butyrate (P3HB), which is one type of bioplastic, accumulates in bacterial cells when bacteria has excess carbon sources. This product can be produced by the isolate bactery namely Bacillus sp.TG in palm oil which contains carbon.
Another type of bioplastic is Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) which is the result of a variety of bacterial synthesis which also have the opportunity to become plastic substitutes for packaging materials. Biomass/solid waste in the form of EFB and oil palm trunks and Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME) can be used as potential raw materials for PHA production because of the high cellulose content in palm biomass and also the fatty acid content in POME.
Thus, Indonesia as the bigest producer of palm oil with the largest oil palm plantation in the world has enormous potential for palm oil, biomass (EFB and trunks) and liquid waste (POME) to be used as raw material for bioplastic. The palm oil-based bioplastic product has advantages over fossil plastics (conventional plastics) because it is biodegradable so it doesn’t pollute/contaminate the environment and endanger human health.
In addition to being a solution to environmental pollution and threatening human health, palm oil-based bioplastic developed from natural resources with abundant availability in Indonesia are also a solution to saving the large foreign exchange that Indonesia has sacrificed to import petrochemicals as raw materials for produce plastics.
Trade map data shows that the import value of petroplastics (HS 3901-3914) in 2019 reached USD 5.78 billion. So that the production of palm oil-based bioplastics by the domestic industry can reduce imports of plastic raw materials and the country will save imports foreign exchange. This saving import foreign exchange can also be converted into subsidies for domestic industries who produces palm oil-bioplastics, so it can create a larger domestic multiplier effect (employment, income, output).
Now, it remains the seriousness of the Indonesian Government to support the development of the domestic bioplastic industry through policy and financial incentives. Many experts at Indonesian Universities are already working on palm oil-based bioplastics so that with the support from the government, they (with the industries) can increase the scale of research into pilot projects and further to commercialization/industrialization. Environmental-NGOs which have been paying attention to environmental sustainability are also expected to provide support for the development of the domestic palm oil-based bioplastic industry.
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