Food starch may have traditionally found uses in cooking preparations and starching clothes, but starch from potato and maize may soon find a new use: bio-degradable utility bags. City-based Science and Technology Park (STP), run under the aegis of the Department of Science and Technology, in possibly the first-of-its-kind attempt, is planning to come up with starch bags that can even dissolve in water. Since March 18, the state government has imposed a blanket ban on the use of plastics — polythene bags, plastic sheets, flags, flexes and banners, plastic and thermocol items like plates, cups, glasses, forks, bowls and spoons. Though milk pouches have been exempted for now, the government is mulling supplying milk in glass bottles instead.
Polymer experts are of the view that starch and Polylactic Acid (PLA) materials can be suitable alternatives to plastic. However, PLA being expensive may find less buyers, they suggest. Speaking to The Indian Express, Rajendra Jagdale, STP Director-General, said, “Being bio-degradable in nature, starch bags can be an alternative to plastic utility bags. These bags can take weight up to 30 kilograms without experiencing any stretching or the possibility of tearing apart unlike polythene bags.”
Jagdale said starch from all food were suitable for manufacturing these bags but added that his team was in talks with companies in Pune mainly for starch from potato and maize, both of which are sufficiently available in India. “With this, we will also be able to address some issues of farmers, who can supply the starch,” he said. “Since these bags are water soluble, they can best be used to store or package dry products.”
Vitthal Kate, corporator from Pimple Saudagar in Pimpri-Chinchwad, welcomed the move and said it would lend greater urgency to stop the use of plastic utility items. Kate along with his team has managed to replace plastic bags with cloth bags in the area in the last three months. “It’s definitely a positive step by the state government. It will boost efforts towards replacing plastic bags, containers and other materials with environment-friendly ones,” he said.
He, however, has a word of caution. “While a ban on plastic has been imposed, the challenge ahead lies in providing appropriate alternative materials that will perform the function as efficiently as plastic. People’s participation will matter equally as plastic can be completely removed only through awareness about its harmful effects,” he said.
On the cost of starch bags, Jagdale said they would be similarly priced as plastic bags available commercially. “Since starch is available in plenty, these bags will cost between Rs 120 and Rs 130 per kilogram, similar to that of commercial plastic materials,” he said. STP is in talks with companies with which it plans to set up manufacturing units estimated to cost Rs 8 crore. Up to 70 tonnes of starch bags would be manufactured in each of these units.