(Xinhua) -- Chilean businessman Roberto Astete has
had the same dream for the past years: used plastic cutlery at a
diner are automatically sorted into small grinders, then the
debris dissolves in water in just a few minutes and is flushed
“We don’t need to collect, transport
and dispose of plastic waste at special facilities anymore. They
can be processed easily on site to reduce ocean pollution,”
These days, his dream is almost a
reality thanks to a new material and processing technology from
his Chinese partner.
In late July, Astete’s company Solubag
and Polye Materials in south China’s Guangdong Province jointly
launched a series of soluble shopping bags in Santiago, capital
of Chile, right before the country enacted a new law barring
businesses from giving out plastic bags to customers.
It takes centuries for petrochemical
plastic bags to degrade in the ocean, choking marine animals and
harming the entire ecosystem.
The bag introduced by the two
companies dissolves in water quickly, and Astete even drank the
mixture during a press conference to endorse its safety.
According to Chen Gang, chairman of
Polyrocks Chemical, Polye’s parent firm, the bag’s raw material
is modified Polyvinyl Alcohol, or PVA, which comes from natural
gas or calcium carbide.
“PVA bags dissolve in water in minutes
so they won’t choke the marine animals. The solution will not
pollute water or soil,” Chen explained. “This alternative to
plastic bags is eco-friendly.”
PVA has been used in paint, glue and
textile manufacturing since the 1930s. PVA film has also been
widely used for packaging in recent years.
However, it was difficult and costly
to process this material into shopping bags due to its lack of
thermoplasticity, said Cui Yuefei, the bag’s inventor and a
senior engineer with the South China University of Technology.
Cui had spent years on modifying PVA
in laboratories and completed his experiments in 2008. By adding
certain agents, he made it easier for the material to be
pelleted, blow-molded and made into bags.
The researcher’s work caught the
attention of Polyrocks, a reputed fire retardant producer that
was trying to explore new business ventures. They joined hands
in modified PVA industrialization in 2015.
“We were looking for a suitable blow-molding
machine in the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian in 2016,” Cui
told Xinhua. “That’s when and where we met Astete.”
At that time, the Chilean had been
searching for a company capable of and interested in making
affordable water soluble bags around the world for over two
“I was in the plastic industry and I
thought to myself, we can’t use petrochemical bags anymore,”
Astete recalled. “I tried some European and American
manufacturers first, but they showed little interest because the
profit margin of shopping bags is very small. Then I came to
Cui and Polyrocks first focused on hot
water soluble bags, which would be more durable for everyday
use. But Astete, coming from a country with a long coastline,
insisted that the bags should be soluble in cold water.
“The Chilean helped us make this
crucial decision in product development,” Cui said.
A prototype was produced in just two
months, and Polye Materials was soon established for the
“The bags launched in Santiago are our
third generation products. Their cost is about 1.5 times of that
of a normal plastic bag,” Cui said. “We expect them to be as
cheap as normal ones in our fifth generation.”
Li Lingyu, general manager of Polye
told Xinhua that the company’s yearly capacity of modified PVA
pellets will reach 10,000 tonnes by November. “That’s about 500
million water soluble bags,” she said.
Astete hopes the bags will hit the
shelves in Chile by the end of this year and has been trying to
persuade his Chinese partner to open factories in his country.
“After the press conference, I got so
many calls and there are thousands of inquiry emails in my
inbox. It’s crazy, really, really crazy,” Astete said. “We need
to further increase our capacity. Eighty-five percent of the
inquiry calls are from outside Chile, such as Mexico, Germany,
France, and Spain.”
Polye and Solubag plan to start a
joint venture in Hong Kong to deal with sales in the global
Plastic pollution is considered a
major threat to oceans worldwide. At this year’s World Ocean’s
Day on June 8, Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United
Nations, called on the world to stop plastic pollution from
contaminating the world’s oceans.
Eighty percent of all pollution in the
sea comes from the land, including some eight million tonnes of
plastic waste each year, which have resulted in the deaths of
one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals.
Besides Chile, Britain is set to ban
all sales of single-use plastics, including plastic straws and
cotton swabs. Kenya and Morocco also have similar restrictions.
“Bags are just the start. We can also
use modified PVA to make glass lids, straws, diapers and to
replace products made from petrochemical plastics,” Astete said.
“My country is small but people share a similar goal to have a
beautiful, clean environment. It’s also the aspiration of all