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Biodegradable Cassava Packaging

Universal Biopack (UBPack) is a Thai company that utilises biodegradable starch based material that can decompose in water.

Photo of Yvette Velasco
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I was reading and inspired by the innovative ideas posted by others such as soluble packaging for plastic products or edible cutlery that I decided to search for a possible alternative to a product that I love and consume on a daily basis -- takeaway drinks. 

I found a Thai based company called Universal Bio Pack (UBPack) that uses cassava starch and bamboo fibres (recycled waste from manufacturing chopsticks) in order to create a packaging that is soluble in water in 7 days or can be used for composting when the product is discarded. This technology can be used in multiple ways as its polymer cellular structure allows it to have insulation properties such as hot and cold resistant or hydrophilic (can be used for cosmetics). 

Source: UBPack Website

If you would like to read more about this product, it was featured on CNN Money


How does this research relate to our Use Cases?

This solution is related to Use Case #3 as this innovative packaging can be used as an alternative for takeaway drinks. The material can be dissolved in water or composted ensuring there is zero waste generated.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

This disruptive technology allows us to rethink and shape how we consume and view packaging in our daily lives. It raises awareness on the sustainable technology available that is yet to be adopted mainstream. The challenge is getting people to adopt it and see the benefits of incorporating sustainability in our lives by supporting these initiatives.

Tell us about yourself

I am currently an MBA student majoring in Strategic Management and Marketing with a keen interest in innovation and sustainability.

51 comments

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Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Yvette!
There are 3 days left in the ideas phase of the circular design challenge! It would be great to see your ideas there, submit your idea via - https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/circular-design/ideas/contribute

Photo of Balint Katona

Hi Yvette Velasco . Thanks for sharing! I'm not sure about the cellular structure you mentioned. Anyhow, I've found many-many firms with products manufactured in a similar (or same) fashion. Ta-ta.

Photo of Paricha Duangtaweesub

Hi Yvette, thanks for sharing! In my research, I also came across several alternative packaging solutions (ones that are edible) which raises the adoption barrier. In this case, while the adoption barrier for consumers might be lower (assuming the price is the same as conventional packaging), I do wonder about the overall impact for the waste system. Say, for countries that doesn't have residential composting programs, there might be opportunities to innovate such that these kinds of biodegradable packaging will have its intended effects!

Photo of Yvette Velasco

Hi Paricha! I agree! I have just finished reading an article on Avani eco in Indonesia which produces cassava plastic bags. I think cost is the major deterring factor as producing eco-friendly solutions do come with a higher price tag and most do not see the benefits of investing in using these solutions now for the long run.

I was thinking maybe a partnership with Terracycle can also work with these types of technologies as they can upcycle virtually anything that is relevant to keep the Circular Economy flowing.

Photo of Paricha Duangtaweesub

I'm glad you mentioned Terracycle as a potential partner. It is an interesting collaborative opportunity. Ironically, I tried to recycle my toothpaste tube once through Terracycle and there was actually a waitlist of some sort - I'd be really curious to know what barriers (perhaps economics) that would prevent them from accepting all the waste products with their stamp on it. I ended up throwing it in the general recycling, which I'm not sure was the right thing to do haha.

Photo of Yvette Velasco

Oh, did they inform you the details on why you had to be put in the waitlist? Is it because of location? Here in Sydney, I know that you can actually purchase their waste boxes and once it is filled up, you just have to send it to them so they can recycle/upcycle it for you.

Photo of Paricha Duangtaweesub

Hi Yvette - from what I recall, they just said I'm on the waitlist. It's been over a year, so maybe things have changed. That sounds convenient - do you remember how much the boxes are? I take it that you have to pay to recycle these through the purchase of the boxes?

Photo of Yvette Velasco

The boxes sell between AUD 129 - 200 if I remember correctly. What I like about these zero waste boxes is that there's a specific type of waste per box (hairnets, coffee capsules, binders, office supplies, media, snack wrappers, etc.)

Photo of Paricha Duangtaweesub

That's amazing. Do you get a chance to talk to Terracycle about the challenges that they see? I'm curious if having to purchase those boxes deter some people also. In any case, I wish that's a service we have in Thailand right now.

Photo of Kris Dublan

What a wonderful idea! I hope more and more people will realize the effects of plastics and use more biodegradable products in order to preserve, protect and sustain Mother nature.

Photo of Alvin Paronda

I agree!

Photo of Franse Hendra

I agree, we need more ideas like this to save our world!!!

Photo of Yvette Velasco

I am pleased that you are on-board with these innovative sustainable technologies! I think if our generation is able to adopt this it will create a ripple effect in society and make it the norm.

Photo of Jessica Danyella

I agree!

Photo of Christel Tardif

So great, thanks for sharing Yvette Velasco :)
Too bad they are wrapping the cup with plastics :(

Photo of Yvette Velasco

There are a couple of ideas here on biodegradable plastics, maybe that can be used as an alternative for the packaging film? :)

Photo of KIN LING

Thanks for your brilliant ideas, however, how long can it be stored? we all know that plastic bottle can be keep the drinks last for a long period of time, and it is easy to deliver and store as well. Or is it suitable for any types of drinks? Since it made by cassava starch and bamboo fibers, would it affect the taste of the drinks or easily melted down under high temperature?

Photo of Matt Jones

This is a brilliant product. Thanks for sharing. I'm curious to follow up to see how this could work with some of my ideas I'm busy formulating. I like how we can stop being fearful of plastic itself - it has a great purpose - but can look to better plastics. Whilst I cannot begin to think of the chemistry involved, I can at least think about the products it could make and the ways it can benefit consumers. Love it! Ta.

Photo of Xiaohang Xu

Thanks for the sharing, it is a great idea and practical method. Environment crisis is a serious problem we are facing now and we need more and more attention like what you said.

Photo of DANDAN PU

Although more and more people care about the environment, they care about the profit too. I was interested in the price of this product. You can find the plastic cups and paper cups are cheap in the market. I want to know how this environmental friendly idea can motivate people to get rid of the plastic products.

Photo of Carl Co

Let us all try to help save the environment with great ideas such as this :)

Photo of Charlene Matanguihan

This is a great idea in protecting and preserving mother nature. It is also a good way of making people aware of the bad effects of plastics and better use of biodegradable products!

Photo of Maggie Fung

It is great to see business owner are doing something to help substain our environment. I totally agree with your view in raising the awareness of plastic pollution. The real root cause is profit. Those leaders in FMCG particularly bottled drinks need to realised this and not just looking after the shareholders. They should put more resource into plastic bottle decomposition.

Photo of Yvette Velasco

I think there needs to be a paradigm shift where firms view that they can only survive in this business landscape if they actually incorporate sustainability in their strategy. Resources are getting scarce and the beauty of the circular economy is nothing gets wasted and everything can be upcycled.

Photo of Thu Phạm Ngọc

Such an amazing and inspiring idea Yvette! I will definetaly share this article to everybody that I know to help protecting our environment and mother nature!

Photo of Rey Velasco

Hi Yvette! The innovation will give awareness for the people around today that plastics are not safe in the environment and also for the whole ecosystem. Hope we all migrate to use eco friendly products here in Manila.

Photo of Riandry Wirawan

This is truly innovative idea and could be the answer for the current massive environmental problems caused by plastic polutions. I really wish to see more and more non-biodegradeable materials being replaced by this in the near future.

However, along the line, we also need to look at how to sustainably produce the raw material in an environmentally friendly manner, as the increase use of these products, and ultimately the demand sky-rockets.

We don’t want another deforestation and whole conflicts that come with it, the same reason palm oil being used as a replacement for controversial trans fat.

Photo of Yvette Velasco

You make a valid point! I was thinking since the cups can be composted, the company can partner with Terracycle to come up with a way to recover the discarded cups and use it as fertiliser to grow the cassava they need in producing the product.

Another issue I have thought after reading your comment is the use of water to dissolve the product which is another challenge as it is becoming a scarce resource and its use may contribute to the war on water.

Photo of Andre Raditya Tjoa

This is such a great idea to solve our issue with plastic which is oil-based and non-biodegradable. Petroleum production and products present us with a huge pollution problem, especially water pollution. I wish it can be implemented in the future to lessen the impact of our lifestyle on nature.

However, I can see a problem in its sustainability. I noticed that they still use plastic for labelling the product. I hope they will reinspect their value chain and eliminate this problem by using biodegradable packaging. If they can solve this problem, it will be truthfully zero-waste.

Photo of Yvette Velasco

I completely agree with your view on the use of plastic labels. I saw another entry in Open Ideo that might help. They have created labels that can be completely dissolved in water. That could be a good alternative if both technologies combine to truly be zero-waste.

Photo of Marcella Lie

Looking at the impact of plastic waste, this is indeed a great idea..I'm hoping it'll be widely available and economic, so consumers/suppliers will take this as a viable option and use it instead of plastic.

Also, I realize although cassava are ubiquitous in South East Asia, it isn't so common in western countries..Is there any similar solution with any other material?

Photo of Yvette Velasco

What's fascinating about this technology is that it is only available in emerging markets such as Indonesia, Cambodia, and Thailand. So, it helps stimulate the economy for developing countries. For UBPack, I read that they have started to work with businesses in Scandinavia who import their packaging.

Photo of Franse Hendra

The purpose of this product itself already described by owners, to reduce our waste! This kind of product has to do some penetration to gain user attention, even though, we knew this issue already published and reported regularly!
I was working at cafe industry before; I found out most of my customers have not paid attention to this issue, I like this brand expanding their products, it is not only the cup, but they also consider the packaging that society regularly uses (Ex: Festival).
Besides the finding out the right materials, the right campaign would be essential in this project!

Photo of Yvette Velasco

I completely agree! If we can get small business owners to start using this product, I'm pretty sure others will follow suit!

Photo of Jacqui Montesa

This is such a wonderful idea for innovating sustainably. It also has to start from within on how to cutting down wastes. Hope I can see this work in the future!

Photo of Yammie Velasco

I have been fascinated by edible cutlery and in the process, have actually wondered if there is such a solution for the manner by which drinks and food itself are packaged. Thank you for this knowledge! Looking forward to seeing this implemented in my country and the rest of the world.

Photo of Marian Loren Mendoza

About time that we lessen non biodegradable wastes. Plastics have already made enough damage. As this sounds promising; The next thing in mind is, do we have enough cassava supply should there be an increase in demand? Question goes on. This is a good start though. Enough to spark curiosity, interest and talks (hopefully actions).

Photo of Qian Liu

It's wonderful! Reducing plastics waste is really potential to protect and sustain nature. make a significant impact on reducing waste. I hope big companies can accept this idea and try to use eco-friendly packaging.

Photo of Arlene Amante

Always interesting to see projects aimed at a more environment-friendly lifestyle. Critical to further understand its sustainability and scalability because only then can it make a significant impact. But this sounds like a good start!

Photo of Marta Buensalida

It's noteworthy that initiatives addressing waste disposal is being pursued by some organisations. If only big enterprises who have more influence towards this issue would act upon these problems then the advantages of using a biodegradable packaging would be more beneficial for all.

Photo of Linda Caste

This is a good idea. I believe many people would be keen on paying a little extra to have biodegradable tupperware. Moreover, soon or late environmental packaging norms will arrive to Australia and this will be then an excellent and remunerative business.

Photo of Yvette Velasco

I saw your post on the Sydney Chapter page on how you want to have a plastic free lunch and that is so timely. I am not so sure if people will be keen on paying extra though especially if they have a tight budget (ex. students). However, I am glad that there are a few of us who are willing to support sustainable solutions so there is still hope! Check out the edible cutlery technology as well from India :)

Photo of Linda Caste

Thank you! I will! You are right..people with low budget will not pay more..and in this case we need to combine environmental wellness with affordability!

Photo of Jessica Chandra

This is one interesting article, thanks for sharing!

Photo of Josef Lim

After seeing a photo of a dead whale covered in plastic, this is definitely a better alternative to the plastic packaging most companies use. I sure hope multinational companies support this type of packaging.

Photo of Izza Castelo

This is an awesome idea! It really has the potential to make a significant impact on reducing waste. It reminds me of the edible utensils developed in India. Hopefully, more brilliant and future-conscious entrepreneurs will flesh out ideas like this, and more companies will be open to using such sustainable products!

Photo of Rabia Ahmad

Most plastics are non-biodegradable which means that all our plastic waste keeps getting piled up in landfills or thrown into the ocean and will stay there for hundreds of years destroying our ecosystem. No matter how much we avoid plastic its quite diffcult as its found in most packaging. I think this is a brilliant idea, wish that more companies would take the initiative to use eco-friendly packaging.

Photo of Emi Situmorang

This is such a great idea. It makes me sad to imagine beautiful nature like Great Barrier Reef is exploited because of human doings. Hope this idea could go global and contribute much more to the nature!

Photo of Han Le

Thanks for sharing this Yet! Love the idea that UBPack can change the future of many festivals in Thailand and in other Asian countries where we haven't used a lot of compostable materials. Keep up the good work mate!

Photo of Fahad Tanvir

A very great idea! Since plastic cups are not eco friendly, this technology is definitely a great way to protect the environment.

Photo of Alvin Paronda

Great idea, since plastic materials are toxin carriers, non biodegradable and put aquatic life into danger.