To tackle Thailand’s growing trash 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 mixture of bamboo and cassava, crops found widely throughout the country.
After growing rapidly in recent decades, Thailand has become one of the largest economies in Asia. 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 issue everywhere,” said Universal Biopack managing director Vara-Anong Vichakyothin.
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The company is using technology devised at a university in Bangkok to manufacture its packaging without waste. It is expected to eventually replace many of the Styrofoam boxes and plastic bags that end up in large 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 wrap things like furniture and even phones. The bamboo he uses comes from leftovers from the toothpick manufacturing process.
In the cities of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, where takeaway drink containers and noodle packets are found on pavements, the company supplies restaurants, organic farmers and other businesses in the food and beverage industry.
But finding new customers can be tricky.
Takeaway vendors in Thailand are looking to cut costs 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 cannot support it [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 betting on a growing environmental awareness that will eventually lead to 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 workforce from 50 to 100.
The aim is to increase the monthly capacity from 300,000 units to one million.
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Much of the demand comes from abroad. One of his clients uses natural packaging for the coconut water he exports.
Universal Biopack says it is also interested in its products from other countries, particularly in Scandinavia.
CNNMoney (Hong Kong) First published on February 12, 2017: 9:08 pm ET