minYak catches up with Kevin Kumala from Bali’s coolest anti-plastic campaigners, Biowear.
What’s the story behind Biowear? How and when did it get started?
Biowear was founded in Bali by a melting pot of three contrastingly different individuals (nationality-wise, background, and occupation) in July 2014. The story began when one of the co-founders (who happens to surf) was getting sick of seeing plastic waste at Bali’s surf spots. The climax reached its peak one night while he was heading back from a surfing trip and it began to rain, so he had to put on his vinyl/plastic rain poncho. Not only was it plastic, but the vinyl poncho also ripped, which caused a light bulb to go off in his head. Soon after, PT. Nirwana Alam Hijau introduced Biowear, an eco-friendly compostable rain poncho.
In 2015 the company pivoted and took their eco-friendly products to the next level by introducing disposable hospitality products to Bali. From that point onward, the company’s portfolio expanded into compostable shopping bags, food takeaway boxes, coffee cups, biodegradable paper straws (with hundreds of designs to choose from) and wooden disposable cutlery.
Tell us a bit about the philosophy behind the company.
We aim to help rehabilitate the island by offering sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives to hazardous products that locals and tourists use every day. With the co-operation of the hotel industry, tourist attractions and retail outlets, we hope to decrease the amount of toxic plastics that are discarded into Bali’s critical ecosystem.
So Biowear produces game-changing products that negate the need for hazardous plastics. Can you tell us a bit more about your products?
The Eco Poncho is made purely from natural starches of corn, soy and sunflower seeds. The material has been internationally certified as fully compostable and will naturally biodegrade when placed in soil in less than 180 days. Though we produced them in limited quantities, the product quickly became a hit around the island, and seeing our customers mostly on bikes wearing our ponchos gave us that extra motivation to go further with other products.
In November 2014, Biowear (under our new trade name – Avani) reached a mutual agreement with an experienced local plastic bag manufacturer to market its second product: biodegradable shopping bags. Derived from local industrial (those which cannot be consumed by humans) cassava starches, Avani produces bags that are 100 per cent compostable and will naturally biodegrade into H2O, CO2 and biomass in less 240 days. In addition, Avani shopping bags will dilute in hot water above 60 degrees, and they are safe for animals to consume. The polymer of the bag has been certified both locally and internationally.
Avani also offers eco-friendly takeaway boxes, cups, straws and cutlery as alternatives to plastic and Styrofoam products. These eco-friendly products are made with FDA-approved Bagasse (sugar cane fibre) and PLA (a derivative of corn starch). These products have been certified internationally as compostable materials and typically will naturally biodegrade in less than 180 days when placed in composting facilities. Moreover, the cutlery and straws are derived from FSC governed forests.
What exactly are bio-plastics?
Bioplastics are plastics derived purely from renewable sources, such as corn starch, cassava, or vegetable fats and oils. On the contrary, common plastics are derived from fossil fuels (also called petro-based polymers) like petroleum or natural gas. Production of common plastics tends to require the consumption of non-renewable fossil fuels and generates more greenhouse gases compared to the production of bioplastics. Moreover, the majority of these common plastics are not degradable (unless injected by metals or mixed together with renewable resources). Once these common plastics are injected with metals or mixed together with renewable resources (be it cassava or corn starch, etc), they can be considered degradable plastics. However they are NOT qualified as biodegradable or compostable.
Once these so called degradable plastics degrade, the majority of them tend to cause micro plastic pollution in the environment. Because plastics do not break down for hundreds of years, they can be ingested and incorporated into the bodies and tissues of many organisms. The entire cycle and movement of microplastics in the environment is not yet fully known, but research is currently underway to investigate this issue.
So many products on the market claim to be eco-friendly, but the truth is they may not be as eco-friendly as they say they are. What does it take to make something truly eco-friendly?
Greenwashing is definitely a hot trend in Indonesia right now. However, we are proud to announce that we are the only company, together with our manufacturer, pushing for purely bioplastic products in Indonesia that do not include a mixture of petroleum-based plastic or metal injections. We believe in going ‘all in’ green or not at all. Unfortunately, the mindsets of ‘once you don’t see it, it’s good enough’ and ‘the bottom line is everything’ are very difficult to revolutionise, especially here in Indonesia.
What has the response been like so far to your products?
The Man Upstairs has been tremendously kind to us. That and our team’s passion and hard work means that our Eco Ponchos are now distributed to more than 80 locations across Indonesia, while our eco-friendly takeaway products can be found in hospitality services across Indonesia and even some overseas markets such as Australia, the US and Singapore. We believe Ora et Labora is truly a recipe for success.
Where can we find Biowear products around the island?
Our Eco Ponchos can be found at BSO, Pepito Market (selected locations) Surfer Girl, Drifter Surf Shop, Yoga Barn, Bali Buda and Earth Café to name a few locales.
You can also find our takeaway products in places like Alila Hotels, Potato Head, W Bali, The Trans Hotel, Betelnut Cafe, Merah Putih, KZU, Watercress, Scratch, Sea Circus, Sisterfields, Biku and more.
Besides creating sustainable alternatives to plastic goods, what other projects are you involved in?
We are constantly in perpetual motion with the Bye Bye Plastic Bag girls since we are in one accord in terms of vision. Moreover, Eco Bali Recycling, Green School, ROLE Foundations, Indosole and Bali Recycling are also partners with the same vision in Bali.
We are also trying to create synergies between our company and events like the Namaste Festival, Pasar Ragam, and Clean Up Jakarta, as well as groups like Badan Linkungan Hidup, and BAPPEDA (Badan Perencana Pembangunan Daerah) in an effort to push them to raise public awareness through education in reducing the use of plastic.