To tackle Thailand’s growing garbage problem, one company is turning to the country’s plant life.
Universal Biopack makes packaging that it sells to restaurants and manufacturers. But instead of plastic, it uses a mix of bamboo and cassava, crops that are widely found throughout the country.
After growing rapidly in recent decades, Thailand has become one of Asia’s largest economies. But like many other countries in the region, it has been slow to try to combat the millions of tons of garbage produced each year.
“Waste management is a big problem everywhere,” said Universal Biopack CEO Vara-Anong Vichakyothin.
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The company is using technology devised at a Bangkok university to make zero-waste packaging. He hopes it will eventually replace many of the Styrofoam boxes and plastic bags that end up in huge garbage landfills in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries.
Its eco-friendly formula took five years to develop and is so adaptable that it could end up being used to package things like furniture and even phones. The bamboo used comes from remains from the chopstick manufacturing process.
In the cities of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, where takeout beverage containers and noodle packets line the sidewalks, the company supplies restaurants, organic farmers and other businesses in the food and beverage industry.
But finding new clients can be difficult.
Takeaway food sellers in Thailand want to keep costs down in a competitive business with thin margins. Asking them to spend more on packaging for environmental reasons is a tough sell.
“The local economy still does not support (this technology),” said Universal Biopack founder Suthep Vichakyothin.
But that hasn’t stopped other companies from entering the sustainable packaging market in Thailand. Like Universal Biopack, they are committed to growing environmental awareness which will ultimately translate into an increase in demand.
To be more competitive, Suthep’s company is investing. It aims to increase production by building a partially automated assembly line at its factory near Bangkok and doubling its staff from 50 to 100 people.
The goal is to increase monthly capacity from 300,000 units to one million.
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Much of the demand comes from abroad. One of its clients uses natural packaging for the coconut water it exports.
Universal Biopack says it is also generating interest in its products in other countries, especially Scandinavia.
CNNMoney (Hong Kong) First published February 12, 2017: 9:08 pm ET