To tackle Thailand’s growing garbage problem, a company is turning to the country’s plant life.
Universal Biopack manufactures packaging that it sells to restaurants and manufacturers. But instead of plastic, it uses a mix of bamboo and cassava, crops widely found throughout the country.
After growing rapidly in recent decades, Thailand has become one of Asia’s largest economies. But like many other countries in the region, it has been slow trying to combat the millions of tons of garbage produced each year.
“Waste management is a big problem everywhere,” said Universal Biopack managing director Vara-Anong Vichakyothin.
The company is using technology devised at a Bangkok university to make its packaging wasteless. He hopes it will eventually replace many of the styrofoam boxes and plastic bags that end up in huge dumpsters in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries.
Its eco-friendly formula took five years to develop and is so adaptable that it could end up being used to package things like furniture and even phones. The bamboo he uses comes from the remains of remains from the toothpick manufacturing process.
In the cities of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, where takeaway beverage containers and noodle packages line the sidewalks, the company caters to restaurants, organic farmers, and other businesses in the food and beverage industry.
But finding new clients can be tricky.
Thai take-out vendors want to keep costs low in a competitive business with low margins. Asking them to spend more on packaging for environmental reasons is a difficult sale.
“The local economy is not yet compatible [this technology]”said Universal Biopack founder Suthep Vichakyothin.
But that has not stopped other companies from entering the sustainable packaging market in Thailand. Like Universal Biopack, they are betting on greater environmental awareness that will ultimately lead to increased demand.
To be more competitive, the Suthep company is investing. His goal is to increase production by building a partially automated assembly line at his factory near Bangkok and doubling his staff from 50 to 100 people.
The goal is to increase the monthly capacity from 300,000 units to one million.
Much of the demand comes from abroad. One of his clients uses natural packaging for the coconut water he exports.
Universal Biopack says it is also gaining interest in its products from other countries, particularly Scandinavia.
CNNMoney (Hong Kong) First published on February 12, 2017: 9:08 p.m. ET