SWITCHING FROM PLASTIC PACKAGING IS NOT EASY!

04/03/2024 14:19

Every day, in Ho Chi Minh City, more than 120 tons of packaging are consumed for all purposes such as packaging goods, containing products, containing garbage, or special requirements from other sectors such as agriculture, healthcare…

Of the significant amount of packaging mentioned above, plastic packaging accounts for the majority (over 60% of the consumption volume, which is about nearly 80 tons/day). Besides, there are other types of packaging used, though not as commonly, such as paper bags or reusable packaging types.

More Loss Than Gain

Plastic bags are used more extensively because they have advantages that other types of packaging do not. While paper bags are used for their aesthetic and easy printing capabilities, they also have several disadvantages. One of the reasons paper bags have not become popular for everyday buying and storing goods is their lack of durability.

Currently, Ho Chi Minh City has over 10,000 private plastic packaging and plastic bag manufacturing facilities in operation. In contrast, the total number of facilities producing paper packaging or reusable packaging types is less than one-fifth the number of plastic bag manufacturing facilities. The explosion in the number of plastic bag manufacturing facilities, without quality control or quantity restrictions, has led to both benefits and harms.

The benefit is due to fierce competition, the price of plastic bags has significantly decreased, making them as cheap as giving them away. This leads to the formation of a habit of using plastic bags as a primary and free container for people; thus leading to widespread consumption of plastic packaging, without a sense of conservation from the community.

This issue, to some extent, positively encourages the development of the plastic and packaging industry in the city. However, on the other hand, the emergence of too many plastic packaging manufacturing facilities has led to fierce competition among them. Most of these facilities are private with small capacity and outdated production technology. To reduce product costs, they have to use a large proportion of recycled plastics from used bags, leading to the current low quality of bags on the market, creating many health risks for consumers.

The harm of using plastic bags is the impact they have on the environment. Plastic packaging takes about 400 years to completely decompose in natural conditions. With the daily disposal amount of nearly 50 tons as it is today, plastic bags have truly become an environmental nuisance, causing unwanted consequences.

The material for plastic packaging, such as polyethylene or polypropylene, is inert substances, resistant to chemical actions, and do not pose a toxicity risk to human health through normal contact such as handling or accidental ingestion. However, the volume of plastic bags not thoroughly disposed of in nature becomes a very conducive environment for the growth of harmful microorganisms.

Furthermore, when plastic bags enter drainage systems, they cause blockages, leading to localized pollution points in the city’s canal and ditch systems. The appearance of a large number of plastic bags in the soil, especially in areas with plants, reduces the plants’ ability to absorb nutrients because the bag’s membrane wraps around the absorption points in the root system. If nylon bags appear in the waste at landfills, it reduces the efficiency of treatment processes.

Biodegradable Packaging, When?

The current trend in the world, which is likely to be applied in Vietnam to meet the above requirements, is the use of biodegradable nylon bags.

These types of degradable products have been researched for a long time around the world and are divided into two main schools.

The first school is research on additives that accelerate the natural degradation of plastics. These additives can be of organic origin such as potato starch, corn starch, or synthetic origins such as organic polymers.

The advantage of this solution is that the technology is easy to apply, the quality of plastic packaging is quite similar to traditional plastic packaging, and the degradation time can be accurately controlled based on the amount of additive added. However, the disadvantage of this method is that the quality and size of the final particles after degradation depend a lot on the properties of the added additive.

The second school involves using entirely biologically based materials such as cellophane or treated potato starch, corn starch as the main raw materials for the production process. The characteristic of this type of packaging is that its properties are often unstable when exposed to natural environmental conditions or do not have durable characteristics like traditional materials, especially water resistance.

While having the advantage of uniform degradation and complete decomposability, the technology to produce this type of material is also quite complex, requiring many stages with strict physicochemical control processes, leading to much higher production costs (from 3-4 times) compared to traditional materials.

Currently, research on biodegradable plastics in Vietnam is still quite preliminary, mostly conducted internally within plastic and packaging companies, capturing the real demand and potential of this material on the market. The essence of these studies is mainly the application of the first school of research technology from foreign companies to actual production conditions in Vietnam. Some packaging companies advertised as biodegradable in Ho Chi Minh City can be mentioned here such as Rang Dong Plastic Company