At the Beijing Olympics this August, one man's trash-or the trash of approximately 3 million visitors -could turn to gold for the right plastics company.
Beijing is loath to fill up the city's landfills with the discarded plastic forks, cups and plates that will inevitably accumulate during the event and are looking to compost sites and biodegradable plastics to solve their dilemma.
``Preparing for the Olympics, we have used green construction materials,'' said Wan Rong, a member of the Office of Science and Technology Committee for the Olympics. ``Now we are looking to use biodegradable material for the tableware and shopping bags in the Olympics village.''
Combined with the coming World Expo in Shanghai and China's recent ban on thin plastic bags, the country could become one of the world's top markets for biodegradable plastics, ventured Li Guangming, vice director of the Shanghai Expo Science and Technology Promotion Center at a recent Shanghai-based conference on bio-plastics, hosted by the Centre for Management Technology.
``At these events there will be a high amount of garbage,'' Li said. ``We have to decide how we can recycle that, re-use that, reduce that.''
Past Olympics and World Expos have also used biodegradable plastics to help reduce the amount of waste the event generates. At the Aichi World Expo held in 2005, more than 10 million eating utensils were used, all biodegradable. Event organizers also used bio-based plastics to construct an outer wall on one of the event's structures and in hand phones and notebooks used during the event.
While the World Expo is still in planning stages, Li believes the event's organizers will be particularly concerned about food packaging, disposable tableware, bottles, souvenirs, rubbish bags, shopping bags and temporary building materials. ``Bio-plastics could find themselves in all these areas,'' he said.
While Shanghai does not yet have the necessary infrastructure to support the composting of such a large volume of biodegradable materials, Beijing has taken steps to ensure that biodegradable materials will have a place to go.
``We are still working out the details for purchasing the materials,'' said Wan. The committee is expecting to purchase 5 million waste bags, which are expected to be biodegradable. The biodegradable materials, however, are more expensive than their longer-lasting plastic counterparts and the Olympics Committee has provided subsidies of around 1 million RMB ($143,000). ``The food and beverage providers have also provided money,'' Wan said.
While it is expensive, Wan believes the Olympics will be a good opportunity to advertise the uses of biodegradable plastics, helping China's consumers and retailers begin considering alternatives to the plastic bags that will be banned beginning in June.
``Energy and environment are becoming more and more important in China,'' said Li. ``Bio-plastics will have an important place in the future.''