Wisynco launches biodegradable foam

Wisynco launches biodegradable foam

BY KIMONE THOMPSON Associate editor features thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

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IT has been said that polystyrene foam, better known as styrofoam, cannot biodegrade.

Well, apparently that’s old technology. Faced with overflowing landfills and growing criticisms about poor solid waste management, business interests and governments worldwide have been trying to find ways to make the material — a durable, lightweight, and cheaply produced option widely used as disposable food containers — more environmentally friendly. Substitute material ranging from milk protein and clay, to plant-based matter utilising rice, corn, potatoes, bamboo, and mushrooms, are among the solutions that have been put forward.

Jamaican manufacturer Wisynco has, however, found it’s own solution — a chemical additive called masterbatch pellets made by ECM BioFilms.

The company announced at its Lakes Pen compound yesterday that adding one per cent of the pellets to its regular foam-making ingredients, results in a product that looks and behaves in the traditional way, but which is "fully biodegradable".

The new product has been branded eco-foam and should break down within nine months to five years. Partial poduction started last year, Wisynco said, but the product will now be fully rolled out.

"One per cent of our additive takes it from something that would be in a landfill essentially forever, to something that will biodegrade within a reasonably short period of time," ECM BioFilm President Robert Sinclair said yesterday.

He explained that the breaking down can occur whether with or without oxygen, and in a variety of environments — in landfills, compost bins, buried, or littered.

Government Senator Matthew Samuda, who last year tabled a Bill in Parliament calling for a ban on the importation and use of styrofoam and single-use plastic bags into the country, called eco-foam a step in the right direction for environmental sustainability. The Government, he said, was pushing for a greater move towards biodegradability of waste and to reducing the amount that enters the waste stream.

Jamaica Environment Trust, while also calling the product a step in the right direction, had reservations about the claims of biodegradability.

Speaking with the Jamaica Observer after the launch, deputy CEO Suzanne Stanley said the organisation will be carrying out its own experiments to see if the claims hold true.

"I think the definition of ‘biodegrade’ needs to be examined," she said. "We’re interested to see if there will be real biodegradation or just disintegration into small pieces. And even if it does biodegrade in nine months, that is still a long time for something to be in the environment. In that time it could block drains, etc."

"Big up to Wisynco for pioneering this in Jamaica, but we still have a really long way to go because we still have a solid waste management problem. It is important for us to think about the amount of waste we’re producing in the first place, as well as the type of waste."

Other than plastic bottles, styrofoam is the most commonly found item among litter strewn by the side of the street, in gullies, and along coastlines.

Wisynco said it is under no illusion that its introduction of eco-foam will solve the country’s solid waste management problem, but it maintained that it is doing its part. It pointed to several initiatives it has undertaken, including a recycling partnership with Government and bottle producers, and the installation of solar and wastewater treatment plants.

"I am one of the biggest environmentalists in Jamaica," chairman William Mahfood said yesterday. "That’s hard to imagine, being the chairman of a company that produces so much of the things that harm the environment, but at the end of the day, personally, I have a real desire to see a significant improvement in the waste stream and in the environment of our country."

Wisynco supplies the local market with 70 per cent of all polystyrene foam products.

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