With over one thousand kilometers of coastline along the Mediterranean Sea, Turkey sees plenty of evidence of the environmental harm wreaked by plastic bags. The amount of plastic discarded into the sea is reportedly creating huge floating plastic islands in the Mediterranean, similar to the “Giant Plastic Patch” in the Pacific Ocean. Efforts by the Turkish government to limit Turks’ use of plastic products have been half-hearted and only partly successful.
But a new commercial agreement between a major Turkish plastic processor and an international plastic manufacturer suggest that, in the private sector at least, Turkey is taking measures to use more environmentally friendly plastics.
Under the agreement, Turkish company Polimernet Plastik will buy a set amount of bioplastic resin from Cereplast, Inc. and supply it to plastic product manufacturers throughout Turkey. For the remainder of 2011, Cereplast will sell Polimernet Plastik 100 tons of bidoegradable resin per month: enough to produce approximately 13 million grocery-size plastic bags.
It’s a small contribution to the estimated 400 million plastic bags that Turks use each month, but the amount of resin Polimernet Plastik takes from Cereplast will likely increase in 2012.
Cereplast Compostables (R) resins are made from corn, tapioca and potato starches sourced in the American Midwest. They will be issued to Polimernet Plastik in the form of pellets, which can then be turned into any form of single-use, disposable plastic. In an industrial composting facility, the products break down within 180 days.
Previous efforts have produced lackluster results
The Turkish government has been trying to limit the use of plastic bags in Turkey for some years now. Last year, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry created an entire commission tasked with reducing plastic bag usage. An entire Istanbul neighborhood, Kadıköy, was declared “plastic bag free”.
But Turks are apparently very attached to their plastic bags. Plastic bags are still given out by most shops in Kadıköy. And the new government commission hasn’t yet proposed any effective way of truly cutting back the usage numbers.
Turkey isn’t the only country with this problem. In Syria, for example, unlicensed plastic factories have complicated the government’s effort to reduce plastic usage, and have also induced the government to begin looking into plastic alternatives rather than trying to ban it altogether.
Indeed, most countries seem to be acknowledging that plastic bags are now a way of life for their citizens, and have shifted the focus from eliminating plastic to creating more environmentally friendly forms of it. The bioplastics industry in Europe is estimated to be growing at around 20% annually, according to European Plastics.
Bioplastics: not a clean-cut solution
Bioplastics are still an emerging technology, however, and must be carefully monitored.
In the United Arab Emirates, for example, the government wants to ban conventional plastic bags by 2013 by switching to “oxo-biodegradable” bags, which are still petroleum-based but incorporate additives that speed up the degradation process. As Green Prophet’s Tafline Laylin pointed out in May, however, these bags require a lot of oxygen to actually degrade — meaning that if they end up smothered under other solid waste in landfills, they’ll be just as long-lasting as their conventional counterparts.
Turkish supermarket chain Migros introduced oxo-biodegradable plastic bags of its own in 2009, touting them as evidence of its environmentally responsible outlook. Hopefully, other Turkish retailers will choose truly biodegradable plastic alternatives instead. The new Cereplast-Polimernet Plastik deal should make that much easier for them.
:: Market Watch
Read more about the environmental impact of plastic in the Middle East:
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