Prioritise regenerative resources, Rethink the business model
12Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
14Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
The water hyacinth is an invasive species, covering about 20,000 hectares of Lakes Victoria, Albert and Kyoga in Uganda. It blocks waterways, causing eutrophication. It affects water quality and aquatic life and contributes to the spread of disease.
It has even caused power outages through clogging of hydroelectric power plant intakes. However, it also has unique properties. If combined with certain biodegradable components it can be used to produce packaging products and can serve as a viable alternative to plastics.
Similarly, agricultural waste with packaging potential is also usually disposed of in applications that fetch low value to farmers, such as composting and, in some cases, burning.
Mark Musinguzi and his colleagues at Makerere University were one of the winners of the Wege prize in 2019 with their wastewater innovation, Wet Technik. During the competition, Alysia Garmulewicz, founder of biomaterials platform Materiom and a judge at the event, introduced Mark to bioplastics. Mark formed a team of experts to research the properties of water hyacinth and various forms of agricultural waste.
The team was driven by their first-hand experience of the devastating impacts of water hyacinth on the communities living along the shores.
Hya Bioplastics produces biodegradable packaging from plant fibres. Their current range of products is made from plant-based agricultural waste. Currently, Hya Bioplastics uses maize husks and sugar cane bagasse for their products, but they are trialling water hyacinth as the major feedstock for future production of plastic alternatives.
The main challenge relates to the logistics of collecting sufficient volumes of water hyacinth to process. The packaging materials are biodegradable and compostable. Hya Bioplastics aims to track and collect used packages at centralised points.
The waste packages can then be used to produce compost for the cassava farmers in their supply chain. In addition, some of the waste packaging can be combined with other components to produce briquettes. Hya Bioplastics has received support from the Mechanical Engineering department at Makerere, mentoring advice from Mike Werner, head of circular economy at Google, and input from Alysia Garmulewicz, founder of Material. The initiative is the first-place winner of the Wege prize 2020 and one of the winners of the Texas A&M University Invent for the Planet 2020 prize.