Greg de la Cruz works at NCR Corp's R&D center in the Philippines. He is interested in economic history and current world financial affairs.
On July 28, 2021, the House of Representatives of the Republic of the Philippines passed a bill banning single-use plastics. The vote was 190-to-nothing, and it represented significant progress (albeit comparatively late) by the country in crafting laws that enabled, or forced, consumers to consume more responsibly and sustainably.
For a country like the Philippines, which has many rural areas, single-use plastics are everywhere. Picture a typical city’s wet market, whose fish vendors’ only affordable way to package fish for buyers on the go is via micron-thin polyethylene bags. And even the more affluent localities are not immune to single-use plastics—garbage bags are anything but reusable or biodegradable.
I try to reuse plastic bags as often as possible, but it’s almost impossible to avoid adding another one to the inventory, especially when you buy from local vendors. Some major cities in the country have tried to help themselves—because their dumpsters simply can’t keep up anymore—and have implemented plastic bans. More often, these bans occur on a schedule; for example, one city I know of mandates supermarkets to use paper packaging only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It’s hard to fully transition any town or city to one that completely bans single-use plastics.
To my pleasant surprise, the world is already seeing biodegradable plastic advocates coming to the mainstream. The shift to sustainable consumption has gained steam in the last decade. I was thankful to find several private companies that primarily focus on manufacturing biodegradable plastics—and I’m happy to share five of those below, each from different parts of the world.
- CEO: Julianna Keeling
- Headquarters: Richmond, VA, United States
- Year of Establishment: 2015
- How it Started: The Founder and CEO, Julianna Keeling, studied Chemistry & Environmental Studies at Washington & Lee University. There, she focused her research on a specific set of polymers that function a similar way to polyethylene—which is the component of the regular plastics we know. Julianna achieved academic success, being awarded the Earle Bates Prize in Environmental Citizenship Award. Her drive towards sustainable solutions led her to establish Terravive in 2015. Julianna has her research published in several academic journals, and she holds multiple patents on plant-based materials and finished products.
- Key Products: Straws, Cutlery, Cups & Lids, Takeout Containers, Plates& Bowls, Bags, and Films. These are home compostable and ocean degradable products built to perform like plastic but break down like plants—cleanly breaking down in freshwater, seawater, landfills, industrial composters, or even at home.
2. Ecoware India
- CEO: Rhea Mazumdar Singhal
- Headquarters: New Delhi, India
- Year of Establishment: 2010
- How it Started: Ecoware India started when a young entrepreneur-minded woman named Rhea Mazumdar Singhal left a sales and marketing job at the Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and decided to disrupt the then-primitive biodegradable plastic industry. At the time, there were no restrictions in her country on single-use plastics—no bans, not even many awareness campaigns. Over a decade later, Rhea is now one of the global thought leaders on sustainability, having been awarded the Nari Shakti Puraskar (the highest civilian honor a woman could receive) by the President of India.
- Key Products: Bowls, Bowls & Lid, Boxes, Cups, Cutlery, Plates, Trays, and Taarey. They offer free shipping for an online order of 1000 rupees (~13 USD) or more.
- CEO: Martin Brudermuller
- Headquarters: Ludwigshafen, Germany
- Year of Establishment: 1865
- How it Started: People outside of Germany may not be so familiar with BASF, but it has long been the largest chemical producer in the world, posting 59 billion Euros in sales in 2019. It was founded by Friedrich Engelhorn in Mannheim, Baden, Germany. Enghelorn was in charge of setting up a gasworks and street lighting for the town council four years before. By 1865, BASF was founded to produce chemicals for dye production such as soda and acids. Throughout the decades, BASF had been a primary producer of soda, sulfuric acid, and ammonia, and in 1921 BASF established IG Farben and other companies, eventually adding rubber, fuels, and coatings to its product catalog. Notoriously, IG Farben collaborated with the Nazi regime, producing the lethal gas Zyklon-B which was used to kill prisoners in extermination camps. But like many big companies which existed before the 1900s, BASF underwent various restructures—mergers, sell-offs, acquisitions, etc. But today, BASF, being a global leader in chemical production, has put needed focus on marketing compostable plastic. It might just be a sign of the times, but such a large corporation investing in sustainable and earth-friendly technology is much-needed influence among other big companies.
- Key products: Ecovio. Certified compostable worldwide, Ecovio is the flagship bioplastic product of BASF. Its main uses are for plastic films used in waste bags, carrier bags, and shopping bags. Ecovio is printable and weldable.
4. D&L Industries, Inc.
- CEO: Alvin Lao
- Headquarters: Quezon City, Philippines
- Year of Establishment: 1971
- How it Started: This Filipino corporation was established in July 1971, primarily as a holding company for a group of companies. It has at least four primary areas of business—food ingredients, colorants & plastic additives, aerosols & oleochemicals, and resins and powder coating. The company’s a relatively younger version of the aforementioned BASF, owning several other companies focused in their own line of business. But knowing the potential of being able to market sustainable technology, one of its subsidiaries, D&L Polymers & Colours, Inc. (DLPC) was able to produce a certified biodegradable plastic product.
- Key Products: The bioplastic products under D&L are marketed under the Biorez brand. Biorez is used for making films, straws, containers, and cutlery. Biorez has even been exported to Italy for use in bags and cutleries. Way to go, Filipinos!
5. Guangdong Huazhilu Biomaterial Co., Ltd
- President: Du Junsu
- Headquarters: Puning, Guangdong Province, China
- Year of Establishment: 2008
- How it Started: Unlike the first four companies mentioned here, which started out modestly, Guangdong Huazhilu Biomaterial started out as a mass producer of biodegradable plastics. From the outside looking in, you might get the impression that all private companies in China, especially those in the manufacturing sector, have no regard for the environment at all. However, this is a very misguided perception because China is already home to several big companies that are large-scale producers of sustainable plastics, and Guangdong Huazhilu Biomaterial is only one of them. In its first year, it already had 50,000 square meters of plant area.
- Key Products: Biodegradable bags—shopping bags, garbage bags, freezer bags. Starch-based biodegradable gloves.
Removing Single-Use Plastics for Good
There are more companies that deserve to be mentioned here, but I thought it might be helpful to mention companies from different parts of the globe. The biodegradable plastic movement is here. Right now, it may be more of a rarity than being a common commodity—close to being a niche market—but the time will come that we will forget we ever used single-use, non-biodegradable plastics in our day-to-day.
The city I live in doesn’t yet ban single-use plastics. Whenever I buy apples and oranges from a fruit stall near our home, I gain at least two pieces of single-use plastics. I do use eco-bags and have a bunch of them sitting on a box, but I don’t have the discipline nor self-control to buy fruits only when I have an eco-bag with me.
Also, when I forget to cook rice, and it’s almost dinner time, I buy takeout rice, conveniently offered by small-time eateries—these lumps of cooked white rice, I can’t use my eco-bag for, so should I be always bringing around my own container?
The point here is, the consumer can’t be trusted to always keep his end of the bargain. You have to create a system or a situation for him where he has no other choice but compliance. That is why these systemic changes are important—they turn what were once voluntary, well-meaning actions into mandatory, environment-saving solutions.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.