Abaca can combat plastics pollution, deforestation

By Therese Angeli Nunez

VIRAC, Catanduanes – Do you know that abaca, a banana-like plant that is abundant in this province and many other provinces in Luzon down to Mindanao, can be of help ib addressing plastics pollution and deforestation while promoting climate protection and the shift towards a circular economy (CE)?

Francheska Zaide, co-owner of Orera Technology, a material solutions company, said abaca plant (Musa textilis Nee), the source of the world-famous “Manila hemp” or abaca fiber, presents such possibility for being an eco-friendly alternative to plastic and paper materials commonly used in various products and packaging.

“We at Orera believe if we shift our focus to natural fiber as alternative, for food packaging at least, our solid waste will be drastically reduced,” Zaida said during the Bounce Back Greener online forum, the DENR Environmental Management Bureau organized recently to tackle eco-friendly packaging solutions.

Zaide said there is a need for eco-friendly alternatives as plastics are serious threats to the environment, health, and climate, noting that use of paper materials requires cutting of trees so deforestation progressively increases.

“There are other solutions available in the market – that’s packaging made from natural fibers,” she said, adding that water and energy consumption to make such packaging is currently high but more than offsets adverse impacts of plastics and paper on the environment, health and climate.

Zaide said the Philippines is rich in natural resources like sugarcane, corn, areca palm and abaca plants which are also sources of natural fiber.

Research and development findings, as well as Orera’s own experiences in working with such plants showed that abaca and areca palm are two most sustainable materials available in the country, she noted.

“Not only is abaca the most abundant in the Philippines; it can also help us achieve our main goal of promoting CE,” she pointed out, adding that CE is a waste- and resource use-minimizing economic model for sustainable production and consumption, and safelt keeping products and materials over long periods.

Zaide said this model is the emerging alternative to the prevailing linear economy which involves collecting raw materials for processing into products customers buy, use and eventually dispose off as wastes.

Abaca has potential for CE application as the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA) said this material is durable and recyclable. “Abaca papers can be recycled several times more than paper from wood or other natural fibers,” PhilFIDA noted.

PhilFIDA also said abaca is the strongest natural fiber on earth and possesses qualities superior to those of other materials, making it a favorite of various industries worldwide.

Abaca, it explained, has non-slipping characteristics, superior tensile strength and mechanical properties, not damaging to the environment and can even be made into organic fertilizer.

The Philippines supplies some 87% of the global abaca requirement for producing cordage, specialty paper, textile, furniture and fixtures, handicraft, novelty items, meat casing, cosmetics and skincare products as well as grocery bags, according to PhilFIDA.

Abaca also has automotive, construction and other industrial applications, PhilFIDA added.

Records show that Catanduanes, Albay, Davao Oriental, Northern Samar, Lanao del Sur and Davao del Sur are the country’s top abaca-producing provinces.