JAKARTA, SAWIT INDONESIA –  The research of bioplastics has many advantages compared to the conventional plastics which are hard to decompose. There has been a research on bioplastics from the waste of empty palm oil fruit bunches. 

The majority of plastics in Indonesia, or around 60 per cent, is derived from the food and consumer goods packaging industry. The huge amount of such plastic uses in Indonesia has caused a difficult problem from the perspective of environment and health.

Tjahyono Herawan, the researcher of the Indonesian Oil Palm Research Institute (IOPRI), said that the raw materials of plastics can cause cancers, reproductive disorder, and pneumonia.

“Plastics made from crude oil derivatives are very dangerous to health. Some of the substances can cause cancer and other derivative diseases. The chemical substances include vinyl chloride monomer, vinyl acetate, formaldehyde and melamine,” said Tjahyono.

To reduce the problem of plastic wastes, Tjahyono conducted a research of bioplastics made from empty palm oil fruit bunches. The waste of the empty fruit bunches is the lignocelluloses waste which is produced continually by palm oil mills.

The researcher Tjahyono started the research since 2013 with financial support from the National Innovation System Research Incentives (INSINAS) of the ministry of research and technology. At that time, Tjahyono had managed to make micro-crystal from the cellulose of the empty fruint bunches and had been applied to a variety of materials.

He then further developed the research result in 2014. The challenge facing him is the quality of bioplastics from the empty fruit bunches is not yet as good as the conventional ones.

“But the bioplastic from the palm oil fruit bunches is better and approaching the quality of the conventional ones as it can be degradable biologically. It can be degradable within three months,” said Tjahyono.

In his research, Tjahyono is still dealing with a number of obstacles, such as production cost. Some of the supportive substances to produce the degradable bioplastics have to be imported.

Another researcher of bioplastics from the empty palm oil fruit bunches is Isroi from the biotechnology and bioindustry research center (PPBBI). Isroi’s research was started in early 2016 under a cooperation with the PPBBI, the Indonesian Palm Oil Society (MAKSI), and the Rubber Research Center (PPK), and financial support from the Indonesian Oil Palm Estate Fund (BPDP-KS).

The food and consumer goods packaging industry has become the target of the research. Currently, the bioplastic prototype made by Isroi has been used for packaging of dry stuffs such as instant noodle, snacks, etc. For packaging of wet stuffs it still needs further development.

The bioplastic has a very big potential for commercial production. Its advantages include the research of bioplastic can reduce the production cost by 40 percent compared to the conventional plastics.

“The challenge is how to scale up the stage of synthetic bioplastic to industrial scale. It needs better facilities of research and it costs higher,” said Isroi.