"One Hundred Percent Biodegradable Polythene Equivalent Products are Available"

Eng. Randika Dissanayake,C.E.O, Healthcare Supplies Division, IMS Holdings (Private) Limited.


by Sirimantha Rathnasekara

With the government announcing that laws will be introduced to ban non-biodegradable plastic, polythene, lunch sheets, food wrapping sheets, garbage bags and rigidfoam boxes, IMS Holdings (Private) Limited can be identified as the pioneering business establishment to come forward to offer alternative environmental friendly products to the country.

The company has taken this initiative more as a social responsibility on behalf of the country with key focus on preserving the environment, than a commercial venture. The impending ban could be deferred in the event there are no viable alternative products to fill the vacuum. In following up on this in the backdrop of fears expressed by the trade mafia on the absence of an alternative for the people in the wake of this proposed ban, we came across IMS Holdings (Private) Limited, Rajagiriya.

Here’s the response of Engineer Randika Dissanayake, C.E.O, Healthcare Supplies Division, IMS Holdings (Private) Limited to questions raised on this important issue:

Q: How do you view the government’s proposed ban on non-biodegradable plastic, polythene and rigidfoam products?

Such laws are very good and most welcome. In fact, this should have been done much earlier, but it being implemented even at this stage is a good move.

Q: There is belief in some quarters that there is an invisible disadvantage in this ‘good move’ as the people will be inconvenienced due to the lack of alternatives in the market?

There need not be any unfounded fears or uncertainties over availability of alternative products in the marketplace amongst the general public. There are many alternative with similar properties to polythene. In the same manner that non-degradable products were distributed to meet the demand, these environmentally friendly alternatives can also be distributed thus. We have sufficient alternatives, but the problem is that a vibrant market for these quality products has not yet emerged within Sri Lanka.

Q: What is the reason for this?

Plastic, polythene, lunch sheets and grocery bags are available in the market at low prices. They can be purchased from the market at a more competitive price than our eco-friendly products. Some products are given free of charge to consumers with other purchases. There is a more prominent cost factor in manufacturing our products. We can offer our products at a far more competitive price to consumers if the government intervenes to recognize biodegradable products as separate from polluting plastics and grant suitable tax concessions.

Q: Is it more viable to import alternative products or produce them within the country?

In my view, importing finished goods as alternatives would place an additional burden on the national economy. So a better option is to produce the consumer item locally. To manufacture these consumer items, raw materials and intermediate goods are required. These raw materials are extracted from corn, tapioca roots or from sugar cane. With the import of these raw materials we have the required technology, manpower, capital and training to undertake this task locally. As appropriate, we can acquire foreign technology, machinery and services of experts from overseas to broad-base the scope and scale of the enterprise. Treating this on par with a national program, we are prepared to transfer technological know-how and guidance to other local entities if called upon.

Q: Of all the listed items under the proposed ban, what do you view as the most destructive to the environment?

Lunch sheets, grocery and shopping bags are the worst of the lot. If we can eliminate this threat, we will able to reduce by as much as 45% the quantum of slow-degrading solid waste that adds up to the environment. With millions of lunch sheets, grocery and shopping bags and polythene being dumped on a daily basis, it is difficult to stop the country from moving rapidly towards environmental degradation. That is why it is important to set our sights on eco-friendly alternative products.

Q: How are eco-friendly products manufactured?

The main ingredients are the extracts from maize/corn used for animal feed or tapioca extract from cassava root. In addition, countries such as Brazil use starch extracts from sugar cane in the form of a monomer. Thereafter these primary substances are subjected to a bio-chemical process to produce the raw material resin required to manufacture bio-plastics goods. These can be blended to produce material very similar in properties to the versatile polythene and similar to polythene they can be extruded into very thin sheets or as thick as required.

Q: How long does it take for these products to degrade?

Once discarded and in the presence of microbes in the natural environment, our sheets, bags, and other similar products degrade very rapidly and we have established this fact practically. Under favorable conditions these products are known to degrade faster than certain vegetables do.

Apart from this, we have certifications in this regard issued by internationally renowned organizations. We have obtained the certification of Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI). Our products were also awarded the ‘OK COMPOST’ and ‘OK COMPOST HOME’ certifications. Also these have also been honored with prestigious European certificates ‘EN 13432’ and ‘ASTM D 6400’.

Q: Isn’t there the possibility of spurious brands creeping into the market under the guise of eco-friendly, bio-degradable products?

Yes, that is a possibility. Fake products can be brought down to deceive consumers. It is with the objective of stemming the tide of such bogus products that quality certificates have been awarded. Bogus products can be identified through laboratory testing. Non-biodegradable plastics and polythene are a byproduct of petroleum. As a result, the products are lighter and low in density. Our products are more dense because plant based raw materials are used in their manufacture. Therefore, customers can easily identify the good and the bad lunch sheets in the market using the weight of similar gauge stack of sheets.

Q: Whatever the products that are manufactured, there will be an issue if they don’t filter down to the people effectively. Within this short time-frame, how will you face this challenge?

We have an effective strategy to meet this challenge. We have the expertise and experience in channeling our other products to the market. We have warehouse facilities and can acquire similar logistics requirements as needed. Sri Lankan train cargo services are very good. Except for a few towns such as Ampara or Ratnapura, train services operate across the country covering most major towns. In addition to our own transport facilities, we can distribute stocks these items to any other areas by train, to meet the demand timely and to avert a void.

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