Environment

Environment

Everyone knows the kind of damages we are inflicting on our planet. The massive production of plastics and Styrofoam not only depletes our already limited resource of oil, we are also churning out huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, causing global warming which results in worldwide natural disasters of droughts, flooding and irregular weather patterns. Hurricanes and typhoons may not affect us but our country will not be spared when sea levels rises due to the melting of the polar ice caps.

There are many methods to counter pollution that leads to an increase in CO2. One way is to reduce the production and disposal of plastics. The Singapore government is currently encouraging recycling and the reduction of the usage of plastic bags. We now have another option: to use bio-plastics instead of pure plastics.

Degradable

Degradation is a process whereby very large molecules are broken into smaller molecules or fragments. Normally, oxygen is incorporated into these molecular fragments. Typically, strong, tough plastic films become weak and brittle as a result of oxidative degradation. This outcome is because the molecules of which the films consist become much smaller. Degradation can be caused by heat, or exposure to UV light and is enhanced by mechanical stress. All normal plastics are degradable but it takes a long period of time to do so, normally in excesses of more than 500 years.

Biodegradable

The process by which microorganisms (microbes such as bacteria, fungi or algae) convert materials into biomass, carbon dioxide and water when left by itself in nature. Meaning to say the material becomes food for these little guys to feed on. Hence the extra word “bio” in front of the word “degradable”. The main material is non petroleum based in nature. These products are usually made from plant or animal sources. Examples of biodegradable include paper, vegetable scraps and some forms of plastics made from ingredients such as corn starch.

These microorganisms speed up the process of degradation and is normally completed from as short as a day to as long as a year. Incinerating these materials can be offset by the amount of carbon dioxide they consume during their life time – carbon neutral. This is only in theory but one will have to depend on Life Cycle Assessments to have a better understanding of the net amount of carbon dioxide the products releases into the atmosphere – since transportation and production of these materials use energy and thus releases carbon dioxide as well.

These products will “disappear” after some time if they are buried in a landfill/compost facility. No toxic residue will be found but it is best suited if they are not buried too deep down where oxygen is heavily depleted. If the landfill is oxygen deprived (anaerobic), methane – a greenhouse gas with over 62 times the GWP (Global Warming Potential) of carbon dioxide is formed and may do more damage to the environment.

Compostable

Being compostable is somewhat similar to that of biodegradation except that it is better. The biodegradation process is carried out in a composting facility, where they can be “encouraged” to biodegrade quickly. The conditions (water, humidity, temperature, lighting) are optimally tuned bring about a speedy biodegradation. Products termed compostable will not only “disappear”, they will become fertilizers known as humus (very dark soil) which can be used to boost the growth potential of another plant. No toxicity of whatever kind will happen.

Origo is 100% biodegradable, specifically 70% compostable. The polypropylene (PP) content is assimilated with the corn. When micro-organism ingest and digest the starch aspect of the product, that component is fully broken down into compost. Our products, or its compost can be safely disposed off in landfills without causing land pollution. Unlike pure plastics, the compost is non-toxic in nature. Run-offs of this compost into land and rivers/seas will not result in land and water pollution.

Many sea animals perish from consuming conventional plastics that have been thrown into the oceans. Bio-plastics on the other hand, disintegrate quickly thus reducing or even eliminating this problem.

Carbon Neutral

Bio-plastics, made of natural raw materials, primarily corn and yam starch, are carbon-neutral. This means that the quantity of carbon dioxide released when incinerated is up to 68% less than conventional plastics.

Here’s an example to illustrate the concept of carbon neutrality:

A corn plant takes in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it grows.
1 unit of the carbon dioxide is “stored” in the corn.
This corn, together with the 1 unit of carbon dioxide, is made into CornWare.
When CornWare is incinerated, the same 1 unit of carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere

The net amount if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has not increased! Plastics, on the other hand, releases new carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when burnt, contributing to the greenhouse gases.

In addition, no toxic gases will be released during burning and the ash that is produced is non-toxic. It will not cause land and water pollution when they are eventually dumped in a landfill.

Quick facts:

CO2 emissions: 1kg of plastic emits 3.4kg of CO2 when incinerated compared to 1.14 kg of CO2 emissions when Origo is burnt.
Energy used: 1 kg of plastic uses 85.9 mega joules of energy when burnt.
1 kg of Origo used 25.4 mega joules of energy when burnt.

Food Shortage

The shortage of corn will add on the burden of world hunger, how do you reconcile this pressing issue?

Hunger is a social disease linked to poverty, and thus any discussion of hunger is incomplete without a discussion of economics. If we’re going to speak meaningfully about hunger, we need to understand the true causes of hunger. For example, hunger is not caused by shortage of food. According to international statistics, the world’s farmers produce 4.3 pounds of food per person, per day. This includes vegetables, cereals, fish, meat, and grains.

People are hungry because they are too poor to buy food. There is a shortage of purchasing power, not a shortage of food.

To put it simply, our Earth generates enough food for all, but sad to say, it’s the interplay of economic forces and politics that decides who gets more, less or none. It is not a question of whether we have enough food or how we deal with them, it is a question of how we can distribute the right food, at the right time to the right people, be it regionally or internationally.

In recent years, there has been the issue of food shortages around the world and some people question the use of edible crops for the manufacture of these bio-plastics. However, the corn that we use, which is the main ingredient of Origo, is grown specially for the purpose of making our products.

You can rest assure that each time you use Origo products, you are not contributing to the global food shortage problem.

Health

Health

Since conventional plastics are made of chemicals, it comes as no surprise that there has been much debate over the harms of eating out of plastic containers. In fact, many studies have been made and there are concrete evidences that it is indeed harmful to eat food from plastic containers, particularly, polystyrene foam commonly referred to as Styrofoam. Other conventional plastics appear less hazardous but have been speculated to cause various cancers and damage to the reproductive system with long term exposure.

As a precaution:

  • Avoid hot food and drinks in Styrofoam containers.
  • Never microwave your food in Styrofoam containers.
  • Never microwave your food in plastic containers unless it is stated to be microwaveable.

CornWare products do not leach harmful substances even at high temperatures or used in microwave ovens.

Styrofoam

When analysing the negative impact brought by disposable foamed plastic utensil, Beijing City Consumer Union clearly indicated: disposable foamed plastic utensils “at temperatures higher than 65 Celsius has its hazardous substance infiltrating into the food, causing damage to human’s liver, kidneys, reproductive system and central nerve system.”

Bisphenol A (BPA)

BPA is commonly found in type 7 plastics, particularly polycarbonate plastics (sometimes identified with the ‘PC’ symbol) and in some type 3 plastics. It is a known endocrine or hormone disruptor and is implicated in diseases ranging from infertility, obesity, breast and prostate cancer, to diabetes, thyroid malfunction and attention deficit syndrome.

Summary of Health Effects

Cornware Plastics Styrofoam
No BPA and styrene Leach Possible BPA Leach (depending on the type and composition of plastics used) Styrene Leach

Other Green Packaging

Other Common Types of Eco-Friendly Packaging

Polylactic acid (PLA) is a biodegradable thermoplastic derived from renewable resources, such as corn starch or sugarcanes. Such plastics are made from 100% plant based materials and fully compostable, however, they cannot withstand temperatures above 60 degrees C and the price is 3 to 5 times more expensive than starch based bio-plastics.

Oxo / Hydro degradable. Not the same process as biodegradability in that certain additives or chemicals are added into the compositional makeup of the plastic material to speed up their process of degradation, not biologically but through chemical degradation by oxidation and hydrolysis for oxo- and hydro-biodegradable plastics respectively.

The main material is still petroleum based plastics and the extent of the degradation process really depends on the amount of additives added. The more additives added, the faster the degradation, the more expensive the product. It can never be as cheap as normal plastics. If the product is as cheap as normal petroleum plastics, then one will know that the amount of additives is extremely little. Might as well regard the product as a normal plastic.

Several companies are greenwashing their so called oxo or hydro degradable product using this unethical method, hoping to gain a premium on their otherwise ordinary everyday plastic material. Upon burial of these products, toxic wastes are also produced which can do further damage to the environment.

Paper is considered a good alternative to plastics or Styrofoam provided it carries the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) logo.

The non-profit Forest Stewardship Council has established an international certification program, based on standards developed from the input of many interested parties such as forest managers and owners, consumers, environmental groups, scientists, indigenous peoples, and union representatives.

The certification process not only looks at the forests themselves, but tracks each step in the supply path from the forest through pulp and paper manufacturing to distribution and sales. In this way, it is possible to be reasonably certain that a given product contains fiber that comes only from sustainably managed forests and hasn’t displaced indigenous peoples or destroyed their livelihoods.

Prices of papers can be understood in this order:

1. Virgin fiber (Cheapest – mostly from unsustainable backgrounds or illegal logging)
2. FSC certified grade (Slightly more expensive than virgin fiber),
3. Recycled Paper (Expensive – lack of market demand / expensive recycling methods)
4. “Tree Free Paper” ( Very expensive – Paper doesn’t have to come from wood pulp; fibers
from hemp, kenaf, flax, cotton, banana stalks, and other plant-based materials can be used
to produce paper with fewer chemicals and less energy.)

Papers (even tree-free ones) are often bleached with chlorine or chlorine derivatives that form dioxin—a known carcinogen (cancer causing)—and other compounds that pollute local air and water supplies. This bleaching is necessary to whiten the paper for aesthetic effects. Look for products labeled either Processed Chlorine Free (PCF) or Totally Chlorine Free (TCF).

As the production of paper usually involves the unethical disposal of waste water into the environment, it is important the paper producing plant is certified under the ISO 14001 (EMS) standard. An EMS is a systematic approach to dealing with the environmental aspects of an organisation. It is a tool that enables the organisation to control the impact of its activities, products or services on the environment. There is no meaning at all if the plant pollutes the environment whilst producing a supposedly Green product.

Bagasse is a fibrous material made from sugarcane. Like paper, it is not waterproof unless a plastic coating is used. It has a raw finish and is brownish in colour. Production process requires less water than paper but still more than starch –based plastics (Origo). Due to its structure, it cannot be made into cutlery.

Comparison of Common Disposable Tableware Materials

Polylactic Acid (PLA)

Starch Based Biodegradable plastics – Origo

Oxo-biodegradable plastics

Conventional Plastics

Paper

Bagassee

Made from

100% plant based material

Made from

Up to 80% plant based material such as corn

20% fossil fuel additives such as polypropylene plastic

Made from

100% fossil fuel (plastics)

Trace amounts of metal salt.

Made from

100% fossil fuel (plastics).

Made from

Trees

Made from
100% plant based material
Biodegradable and compostable Biodegradable and compostable Degradable Not biodegradable. Partially biodegradable and compostable Biodegradable and compostable
Non-toxic waste produced Non-toxic waste produced Toxic waste produced. Toxic waste produced. Toxic waste produced during production. Non-toxic waste produced
Carbon neutral up to 68% Carbon neutral up to 68% Not carbon neutral Not carbon neutral Carbon neutral Carbon neutral up to 68%
Expensive Low price. Comparable to conventional plastics. Low price. Comparable to conventional plastics. Price dependent on oil prices. Varies in prices depending on type of paper. Low price. Comparable to conventional plastics.

FAQ

1. What is considered as a truly green material?

A truly green product should be 100% Biodegradable and 100% Compostable.

2. Why must polypropylene be present in Origo? wouldn’t it be better if only starch is the only component?

Pure starch though cheap, cannot be easily thermoformed and does not produce sound structural qualities. Meaning to say, even if the product can be shaped, the end product is not waterproof, extremely powdery in feel and crumbles easily once it comes into contact with fluids. This product fails to meet commercial expectations and the product range is very limited even though it is biodegradable, compostable and boasts of very low carbon emissions when incinerated.

A good percentage (70%) of food grade – genetically non modified starch blended with polypropylene (petrol plastic PP – 30%) forms the basis of Origo. The overall structure of the product is strong, non brittle, naturally slightly tinted (ivory coloration) and most importantly, very affordable. Only the starch blended portion will biodegrade and produce lesser carbon dioxide when incinerated. The PP portion will still take a long period of time to biodegrade. It is better for 30% of a disposable product to be plastic than a 100% worth of plastic – an overall reduction in our dependency on petroleum. This composition though affordable, is only partially biodegradable and compostable (starch based portion only).

3. Can Cornware products be washed and used again?

Yes, you can use it as many times as you deem fit. However, prolonged usage may result in the product turning brittle.

4. Is it microwaveable? If it is, how many minutes can it be?

Yes, it is. Recommended for medium heat setting for not more than 3 minutes.

5. What happens when Cornware is exposed to temperatures higher than 150 degrees Celsius?

No leaching will occur. However, the product may become softer than usual.

6. Will the product stain the food that it is in contact with?

No it will not. Staining is not possible as the corn fibres have been technologically assimilated. There might be a negligible thin layer of corn starch powder on certain products due to the nature of the production process for them. This layer is food grade standard in accordance to US FDA standards and is 100% safe for food contact.

7. At what levels of pH is it acid proof?

CornWare can take acidity as low as pH 4 which is more than sufficient for the majority of the acidic foodstuffs commonly used.

8. How long can Cornware be stored for?

In a dry and cool condition, it can be kept for at least 3 years.

After that, they will become brittle and the coloration will become more yellow. If the cartons are left open, then the expiry date will be shortened. Although they are still safe for usage, it is not advisable since they break easily upon contact and is no longer functional.

9. Will Cornware biodegrade if buried in my own garden?

Like all bio-plastics, biodegradation is meant to be done in a compost facility/landfill. The environment in a compost facility/landfill is optimised for biodegradation. This allows the bio-plastics to biodegrade in a relatively short time as compared to biodegrading in a garden.

10. Can Origo be recycled?

Technically, starch-based plastics like Origo can be recycled. However, the volume available for recycling is not huge enough due to the fact that usage of such bioplastics is not as widespread. It is therefore not justifiable to build and maintain such a recycling facility.

11. Can Origo be eaten?

Origo cannot be digested by the human digestive system, although it is not poisonous even if accidentally swallowed. However, certain animals like ducks, chickens and fishes can digest it. In fact, used Origo is fed to such animals as part of their feedstock.

12. Why are some of the products uneven in coloration?

Minute fluctuations in certain electrical processes involved in the production procedure will inevitably result in slight differences in the coloration of the end products. Overall, we strive for ivory coloured products for aesthetic reasons.

13. Can printing be done?

Yes but for now, we can only incorporate the prints on cups and bowls only. Full colored prints can be done too. However we try to discourage printing as the process wastes energy and resources and is not in line with our company’s mission. Besides, coloring might compromise the strength of the end product. Embossment is a better recommendation since this method of production is more resource efficient.

14. How does the usage of CornWare help Singaporeans to go green?

Since Origo consists of 70% starch, once the used disposable has been thrown away and incinerated in Singapore’s context, that 70% of starch will produce far less carbon dioxide compared to a disposable that is made from a 100% worth of petroleum.

15. How do I know that CornWare is green and safe?

In order to penetrate and convince the international market, we have under our belt a bevy of international certificates (see accreditations) which fully acclaims us on the following, all of which are reviewed every term.