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Wisynco eyes biodegradable styrofoam amid Senate pushback

Published:Wednesday | October 12, 2016 | 10:00 AMJovan Johnson
Mahfood

Wisynco, the sole maker of styrofoam in Jamaica, has said that by the end of this year it will be using biodegradable additives that will make the product more environmentally friendly, noting that customers should expect a slight increase in prices.

William Mahfood, the group's chairman, disclosed the development to The Gleaner on Monday, three days after the Senate approved a motion proposing a ban on plastic bags and styrofoam.

It is estimated that it takes up to 500 years for styrofoam to biodegrade, and about 50 per cent of non-biodegradable waste in Jamaica is made up of styrofoam - 70 per cent of which is made here - and plastic bags.

"The chemical additive will facilitate the product breaking down into compostable materials, basically into dirt. It is something that we've been doing a lot of research on," Mahfood said

ECM BioFilms, based in the United States, will be providing the MasterBatch Pellets, which it said will biodegrade plastics, although it said it could not "guarantee" how long the process would take.

Mahfood said using the additives is the most practical means now as others are expensive.

"It would be very difficult for us to implement a full conversion to a plant-based material because it would drive up the cost of the package to those small shopkeepers and lunch and food preparation places tremendously. I know people have tried them in the past, but they cannot get acceptance at the grass-roots level because of the cost."

 

PRICE INCREASE

 

Nonetheless, consumers of Wisynco products are to face a slight increase in styrofoam packages that range in prices from $3 to $10 per unit.

"There will be a nominal increase in the cost of the products to consumers - potentially less than five per cent. We're very, very focused on the environment and we realise that we may be one of the larger manufacturers of plastic materials, not only styrofoam, and we have been very focused on trying to find ways to minimise the impact on the environment."

Meanwhile, Mahfood said the more than 200 workers employed in its styrofoam factory have expressed concerns over their job security in light of the discussions to ban plastics and styrofoam.

"We have said to them, it's not something to be concerned about at this point. We're going to implement every measure [to ensure] that we are in compliance with whatever the law requires, but we want to ensure the security of those 200 jobs," Mahfood told The Gleaner.

Fast-food chain Island Grill has switched to biodegradable bags and food containers, in spite of negative reactions from some customers.

"We have moved from plastic to environmentally friendly boxes and we have had a lot of pushback from some of our customers who like the plastic. I will admit, it (plastic) is more customerfriendly, but we take it (the change) very seriously," Thalia Lyn, the chain's chief executive officer, told The Gleaner.

Lyn said she could not immediately provide the monetary cost of the switch, but noted that it has been "more expensive".

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com