Can Bioplastics Be Safe for Animals and Humans to Eat?

Kevin Kumala from Avani Eco discusses the development of his cavassa starch bioplastic.

Kevin Kumala is an engineer, biologist and entrepreneur who wants to save the world from plastic pollution. Estimating that Indonesia has a population of 260,000,000 people, and on average a person uses one straw per day, and a straw is 20 centimeters long, Kumala says that 52,000 kilometers of plastic straws are discarded every day. In his TEDxUbud Talk Plastic that marine animals can safely eat, Kumala discusses the development of his Avani cassava bags and other compostable bioplastics.

Kumala says that his team tested a variety of starches and biopolymers to develop their biodegradable, compostable, non-toxic and edible plastic material. Mangosteen starches, brown algaes, hyacinth and sunflower seeds were all used on their own and in combinations to find the a material that could give the durability of plastic without the potential hazards to the environment. After four years of testing the group settled on cassava starch as the base ingredient for the plastic, mixed with vegetable oil. Kumala claims that his patented bioplastic in the world is the only one to have passed oral toxicity tests.

Avani is a full set of bioplastic products that strives to use plant-based polymers instead of current petroleum-based plastics. In 2016 in Bali the use of Avani products replaced 197 tons of plastic waste with their biodegradable components. The components are used in twenty different countries.

Kevin Kumala is an energetic speaker and there’s great showmanship and imagery in his talk. I first heard of him in early 2017 after his “watch me drink a plastic bag” videos circulated on video sites. There’s not a lot of technical content in this talk because the processes of forming the bags, straws and takeaway boxes are very similar to plastic processing. I’m the most interested in hearing how the company processes the cassava to remove the possibility of creating cyanide that I always heard was possible when making tapioca. The use of cassava and sugar cane waste is growing in popularity for several applications, from packaging to clothing fibers, and we’ve run articles before about edible water bottles and straws. Hopefully more sustainable options develop in the next decade, and they come without unintended consequences.