In breakthrough, Israeli firm learns how to control breakdown speed of compost items
Bioplasmar says it can determine how long its biodegradable plant pots will stay firm on the shelves, before disintegrating when planted into the soil, paving way for other uses
Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.
An Israeli company that makes plant pots out of compost expects to produce, in the coming years, a wide range of other goods that are currently made of environmentally harmful materials such as plastic and polystyrene.
Bioplasmar is currently producing compost plant pots in Poitiers, France, and is in the process of expanding to Germany.
In addition to the pots, it has already piloted single-use, compost-based plates, and — according to its CEO Zamir Eldar — is being approached to produce compost-based equipment for use in greenhouses.
Bioplasmar’s key innovation is in the way it combines the compost with a mix of natural glues (such as resins and starches) and other additives that allow it to control the rate at which the pots remain firm on the shelves and then decompose in the soil.
“Nobody else knows how to control the time,” said Eldar.
The higher the ratio of adhesives, the slower the rate of breakdown — a feature essential to a large plant pot housing a tree sapling, for example. The sapling will be watered for up to a year in a humid greenhouse before being planted, together with its pot, into the soil.
In Poitiers, Bioplasmar is partnering with SEDE, a subsidiary of the French water, waste, and energy management company Veolia, to manufacture four million compost-based plant pots per year, with diameters of 10.5 and 13 centimeters (four and five inches).
Veolia collects municipal organic waste and turns it into compost.
Bioplasmar takes the material that has not fully broken down and is of no use to Veolia — such as bits of branches — and compresses it to make the plant pots, which are then sold to local councils or retail outlets such as flower nurseries.
The company is now building its first plant in Germany, near Nurnberg, where it will be using injection molding to produce lighter, bigger pots.
In both countries, the composting sites are close to Bioplasmar’s production facilities, keeping transportation-related carbon emissions down and contributing to a local, circular, economy, where one person’s waste becomes another’s resource.
More than 20 billion plant pots are made every year worldwide, costing little to produce but generating substantial carbon emissions during production and waste when they’re thrown away.
A Bioplasmar lifecycle analysis, covering the entire chain of a 10.5-centimeter-centimeter diameter pot manufactured by compression, showed that 571 grams of carbon dioxide were emitted for a plastic pot, compared with 246 grams for a compost-based one.
More than half of the CO₂ emitted by the compost pot was released after the pot had been put into the soil, by the microorganisms that help organic matter to decompose. Some of that CO₂ would be reabsorbed in the process of photosynthesis undertaken by the plant growing in the pot.
Eldar said that while plastic pots are cheap to produce (although costs are rising due to energy and supply chain costs), money had to be spent either recycling or burying the pots in landfill after use. The indirect costs of environmental damage also had to be taken into account, he added.
By contrast, Bioplasmar’s pots disintegrate in the soil, saving the manpower hours of taking plants out of pots before planting them. The protection and natural fertilizers offered by the pots also lead to quicker growth, Eldar added, because plant roots aren’t subject to the shock of being transferred — and sometimes wrenched — out of pots at an early stage in their development. Growers could save on artificial fertilizers and pesticides and get young plants out of nurseries and into the soil more quickly
Bioplasmar pots cost around four times as much as plastic today (a pack of 10 will shortly be available on So Ethic’s website at 14.90 euros, not including shipping). The company’s aim is to get the cost of a 10.5-centimeter pot down to around 20 euro cents (NIS 80 agorot, or 21 US cents).
Asked why Bioplasmar had no presence in Israel, Eldar said the Israeli market is small, environmental awareness lags behind that of Europe, European regulation is more advanced, and state grants, loans, and tax incentives are more generous.