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Te Ipukarea Society: Palming off environmental responsibility

Saturday June 22, 2019 Written by Published in Environment

Plastic Free July is approaching, and with the Cook Islands cabinet recently banning many single-use plastics, we deal this week with a recent initiative to reduce plastic use in our close neighbour, Samoa.

A start-up business there is manufacturing biodegradable alternatives to plastic. Samoa Green Products is the brain-child of well-known environmentalist James Atherton, who is also the President of the Samoa Conservation Society.

The newly business is making plates, bowls, and cutlery from sheaths and leaves of palm trees. Only those that fall to the ground as part of their normal growing process are used.

The main palm trees used are Alexander palms, Royal palms, and Christmas palms. Other palms and materials will be trialled as well, as the business develops.

The items are made in a hydraulic press operated at high temperatures. The items are designed to replace single use plastics, but can in fact be washed and reused several times. They are quite sturdy, especially when pressed out of thicker palm sheathes.

James went all the way to India where the machines are made, to look into the way the innovative technology is used over there. He was so impressed he ended up buying a machine, as well as a range of dies (templates) for the various products he thought would sell well in Samoa.

- Te Ipukarea Society


Te Ipukarea Society 

Te Ipukarea Society 

The business has been operating only two weeks, and is still in the developmental stage. However, they have already had their first significant order to supply plates and cutlery for an upcoming UN Women workshop in Apia. 

UN Women country programme coordinator Mele Mauala said they were proud to be the first customer. It was an opportunity to showcase the new products, while at the same time showing their support to the Government of Samoa for their commitment to reducing the use of plastic.

This innovative approach to using waste products from nature is likely to satisfy a niche market in Samoa, rather than become a mass production enterprise. This is only a small factory, with a single machine that can make three items at a time.

It takes approximately one or two minutes to make each item. There is also considerable time spent in sourcing the palm sheaths to be used. Because of this, the imported mass-produced sugar cane or bamboo fibre plates will always be significantly cheaper. 

But the fact these palm products can be used a number of times is one advantage over imports. They are also unique and attractive, and hopefully will find an adequate market to ensure the business is profitable. 

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