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RISKS OF THE SUSTAINABLE INDUSTRY, ARE THE BIOPLASTICS THE PATH TO FOLLOW?

Recently in Mexico the company Biofase was established . This company has managed to process avocado seeds to turn them into a polymer that can be used to create products for which conventional plastic would normally be used, eg , straw or bags.

This should remind us that there are still many advances in the recycling of artificial polymers. According to a World Economic Forum report , only 14% of the 141 million tons of plastic generated in 2015 was recycled. Therefore, the so-called bioplastics are seen with great optimism as they seem to be an alternative to the slow development of the recycling economy. Companies, like Biofase, are using waste as their main input, which not only reduces production costs, but also makes their businesses sustainable. Even if sufficiently competitive prices are achieved, they could become export products.

However, the expansion of this industry and the possible mass consumption of bioplastics also face risks; that is, although there are operational and environmental benefits, there is also the other side of the coin. One of these risks is the ” ultra specialization in monocultures” that sustainable practices generally use.

Avocado, for example, can only be grown in regions with very specific geographical conditions. It is not surprising that 85% of avocado production in Mexico is concentrated in only one of its states (Michoacán). We already know the effects of this specialization, we have witnessed spikes in the price of avocados due to the combination of several factors such as the increase in demand in the United States, strikes by agricultural workers and the depreciation of the peso against the dollar.

Although only the seeds are used for the production of bioplastics from avocados, we do not know what could happen in the face of a shortage scenario that entails a significant decrease in these inputs. On the other hand, the waste that is used, in this case of the avocado, are those that for not complying with specifications can not be sold for human consumption or companies that process the fruit. That is to say, it is not a large scale recycling where the seeds of the garbage that we discard in our daily life are collected.

However, it is difficult to know the effects on bioplastics that are not generated from waste, but from plants and, in many cases, edible agricultural products for humans such as wheat, cactus, potatoes, among others. According to a report by Europlas , a bioplastic producer, more than 60% of the bioplastic in the market comes from food sources.

We are already seeing an increase in the demand for these so-called ‘sustainable products’ and it can be inferred that the demand for bioplastics will grow as their availability increases and they become economically more accessible products. This expectation of the increase in demand presents great incentives to agricultural producers to specialize their crops to satisfy the requirements of this incipient industry. Thus, the phenomenon of the proliferation of monocultures could occur.

This scenario has already materialized in regions of South America where quinoa is produced. The demand for quinoa in developed countries increased because it helps to meet the daily protein requirements of vegan people. The price of quinoa increased to such an extent that impoverished communities that based their consumption on this seed now can not afford it, thereby undermining food security in countries such as Peru and Bolivia.

Proliferation in monocultures can lead to the ultra – specialization of agricultural labor and the acceleration of mutations of pests that damage the plantations. Both effects are risk factors that weaken the food supply chains and – as a consequence – violate food security.

Sustainability is the practice of achieving a balance between the exploitation of resources, the ability of the environment to regenerate and the human need for economic and social development. Companies and governments tend to focus on achieving sustainability, but it is also necessary to analyze the risks inherent in the implementation of sustainable practices. Sustainability is an opportunity for the preservation and protection of the environment without sacrificing human development; But, on the other side of the coin, there are the risks and side effects that can magnify the problem of unsustainable consumption instead of mitigating it.

The Political Risks team is committed to social responsibility with the environment; We believe that sustainable practices are not only responsible, but an excellent business opportunity. However, behind every opportunity there are risks. If your organization wants to analyze these risks, please contact us at info@riesgospoliticos.com.mx . 

 

 

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

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