This Thai company makes bamboo food packaging to reduce waste

To solve Thailand’s growing waste problem, one company is turning to the country’s flora.

Universal Biopack makes packaging that it sells to restaurants and manufacturers. But rather than plastic, it uses a mix of bamboo and cassava, crops widely grown throughout the country.

After rapid growth in recent decades, Thailand has become one of Asia’s largest economies. But like many other countries in the region, it has been slow to tackle the millions of tons of waste produced each year.

“Waste management is a big problem everywhere,” said Vara-Anong Vichakyothin, general manager of Universal Biopack.

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The company uses technology designed at a Bangkok university to make its zero-waste packaging. The company hopes it will eventually replace most of the polystyrene boxes and plastic bags that end up in huge landfills 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 used comes from leftovers from the chopstick manufacturing process.

In the cities of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, where takeout drink containers and noodle packets line the sidewalks, the company supplies restaurants, organic farmers and other food and beverage businesses .

But finding new customers can be tricky.

Takeaway food sellers in Thailand are keen to cut costs in a competitive industry with thin margins. Asking them to spend more on packaging for environmental reasons is a difficult task to convince.

“The local economy still does not support (this technology),” said Suthep Vichakyothin, founder of Universal Biopack.

But that hasn’t stopped other companies from entering Thailand’s sustainable packaging market. Like Universal Biopack, they are banking on growing environmental awareness, which would ultimately lead to an increase in demand.

To become more competitive, Suthep’s company is investing. The aim is to increase production by building a partially automated assembly line at its factory near Bangkok and doubling its workforce from 50 to 100 people.

The goal is to increase monthly capacity from 300,000 units to one million.

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Much of the demand comes from abroad. One of his clients uses natural packaging for the coconut water he exports.

Universal Biopack says its products are also attracting interest in other countries, including Scandinavia.

CNNMoney (Hong Kong) First published February 12, 2017: 9:08 p.m. ET