Bamboo Bioplastic Enterprises: Reinforcing Circular Economy

Dr. Selim Reza

(The author recently served with INBAR, Ethiopia)
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international environmental treaty adopted on 9 May1992 with the objective to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Globally, the national states are putting a humble effort through development action based programme to address climate change mitigation and adaptation. Recently, UNFCC recognizes bamboo can be a sustainable biodegradable and an alternative to single-use plastic. As a result, Air China and IKEA are some of the leading companies introduced plastics with bamboo products. Recently, at the UN climate conference in Madrid recognizes bamboo could be a sustainable biodegradable alternative to plastic. Accordingly to Oxford Dictionary defines "bioplastics" as a type of biodegradable plastic derived from biological substances rather than petroleum. The primary source of the material should have bio-sourced and renewable biomass.  Bamboo fulfills the criteria of bioplastic. The resource is renewable, grow fast and having ample uses to produce high-end to low-end environment friendly products and it has direct relation in circular economy. A circular economy is an approach to keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value, recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.  

Addressing the nation on the occasion of the Independence Day in 2019, the Prime Minister of India called on a move away from single-use plastic. It assumes to intense speculation that the Government is planning to ban single-use plastic through legislation in future with a replaceable environmental friendly alternative. Bamboo straw, plates, furniture, bottle and litter bins are growing demand in high-end market for restaurants, hotels, institutional canteens, corporate house staff canteens, juice bar and coastal area eateries. These eco-friendly green products are also encouraging customers to create natural demand on eco-friendly products to save environment and creating ample opportunity in bamboo sector in particularly rural enterprise development. Increasing demand for green products as an alternative single use plastic, bamboo could be a base raw materials to produce these products to promote micro enterprises. It will help to meet the current demand, establish green enterprises, and create jobs, save environment and management of bamboo waste. 

Bamboo is a perennial fastest growing plant. The World wide more than 1600 species of bamboo are widely distributed in topical and sub-topical region.  In India, bamboo occupies an area of 15.69 m ha bearing 136 species belonging to 23genera. It is one of the major natural resources and having ample capacity to promote micro enterprises to create green jobs through establishing bioplastic products micro enterprises  such as bamboo straw; bamboo bottle; bamboo poly bag; bamboo shopping bag; bamboo litter bins; bamboo ornaments etc. These products are renewable alternative to single-use plastic. The bamboo fibres can be combined with corn starch, or heat pressed, to create products including plates, take-away cartons, crockery, cups and straws. Research by the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) shows that the well produced bamboo plastic alternatives can be 100 percent bio-based and completely biodegradable. It could play a big role in a global bioplastic sector producing around 2 million tons a year. Moreover, bamboo can also be used to replace more durable items, from chopping boards and house ware to furniture.Northeast India is a treasure house of the bamboo resources; it grows naturally in forest and non-forest land areas and also private land. A visible industry has been established in bamboo sector over the period of two decades in this region for creating employment and generates livelihoods among the rural masses.

It observed that 60 percent above bamboo waste could have been found to produce traditional and mechanized bamboo units. The bulk of waste generally used as household fuel substitute or placed in dumping ground. It is the major challenges for the bamboo sector in India. The established business units are struggling to optimum utilization of the bamboo raw materials to produce added value products for incremental income for sustainable business. Re-use of waste could be an alternative way to encourage bamboo entrepreneurs. 

Promoting bamboo bioplastics products as per local framed conditions need extensive research and development in bamboo sector in India. An appropriate technology, suitable investment plan and mechanized institutional procurement may help to promote micro and small bioplastics enterprises. The Government of India is very positive to ban single-use plastics throughout the country. The State Government is also showing interest to promote alternative single use plastic products. The bamboo based bioplastic products could be an alternative to single use plastic. The role of concerned line department is very important to identify sparking entrepreneurs, need synergy among the inter department and overall convergences. Sustainability of bamboo bioplastic units should focus on strengthens the existing bamboo value chain. It helps to develop an entrepreneur friendly roadmap for implementation and encourage investments. It will help to upgrade the current supply chain system of resources; develop quality planting materials; scientific plantation and harvesting; waste management and diversification products. The farmers will take interest to adopt bamboo in homestead farming system development when it will act as circular economy to address livelihood and income of the farmers. 

It is interesting that a few number of self motivated entrepreneurs emerged in Northeast region including Tripura with the technical support from an externally-aided bamboo cluster development EU-Switch Asia and Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) co-funded project, and thereby playing the role of an angel investor to produce bioplastic bamboo products and participating market regular basis. These units are manufacturing very absorbing market driven products such as bamboo straw; bamboo bottle; bamboo bag and bamboo kitchen utility items and playing a pivotal role as role model to encourage others. Further, these prospective entrepreneurs’ needs extensive handholding and coaching support in terms of product pricing; product standards and certification to positioning the national and international market. No doubt, bamboo bioplastic is a promising enterprise in bamboo sector. 

In nut shell, there have been enormous challenges to reach the zenith of success of bamboo bioplastic products in Northeast region. Facilitating business eco-system, fruitful coaching and handholding support could be a doable way to promote bamboo bioplastic business enterprises in this region. In long run, it will harmonize to manage the bamboo waste; environmental protection; climate change challenges and generate employment in the circular economy through linear models of production and consumption. 

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