Sustainable Industry

Sowing the seeds of the future with technology

Entrepreneur innovates by transforming industrial waste into biodegradable tubes for planting seedlings

Plunged into an irrefutable climate crisis, the linear economy is reaching its limits. It is time to invest in the circular economy, where residues become inputs for new products, as occurs in nature, among other initiatives.

With his watchful eye, mechanical engineer Cláudio Rocha Bastos became an advocate for this transformation when in 2000 he decided to invest in the company CBPAK, which operates in the business of converting cassava starch into disposable packaging.

In 2013, the technology received the National Finep Technological Innovation Award; and, in the following year, CBPAK was ranked second in the National Confederation of Industry (CNI) Awards. In addition, Cláudio became a member of the Ellen McArthur Foundation.

Cláudio Bastos – who has published scientific papers on climate change – wanted more: in 2017, he established TOCO Engenharia e Inovação Ambiental, which, from the malt bagasse waste generated by the beer industry, developed a proprietary technology and started to manufacture 100% biodegradable containers, thus eliminating the use of plastic in the development, transport and planting of seedlings.

“Agribusiness seemed to be a rich realm for us to research new technologies,” says Cláudio as he explains how he came up with the idea of producing biodegradable tubes from the malt bagasse waste generated by the domestic brewing industry, thus transforming an environmental liability into an economic asset.

“It’s the circular economy sowing the seeds of the future with technology,” muses Cláudio, and adds that the new company is a “paradigm shift in planting seedlings.”

As such, TOCO’s initiatives are in line with the strategy of the National Confederation of Industry (CNI) towards a low-carbon economy based on four pillars: energy transition, carbon market, circular economy, and forest conservation.

“Throughout the entire process of planting seedlings – from the nurseries to the field – biodegradable tubes are an environment-friendly, low-carbon solution that makes a real contribution to the management of water and solid waste and in full adherence to the principles of the circular economy,” says the company’s founder.

“TOCO is a smart leading player in the planting process, because, in addition to making use of industrial waste that would otherwise be thrown away, it makes it possible to change tube formulation to provide the nutrients necessary for the best performance of each crop, species and soil,” he says.

A new roadmap – But how does the new roadmap proposed by TOCO work in the stages of planting seedlings? First, the malt bagasse is transformed into 100% biodegradable tubes.

There are two planting options: either the seeds placed in the TOCO tubes are immediately taken to the field to be planted in the soil with the containers (direct seeding) – which is not possible with plastic containers –, without spending some time at the nursery; or they are packed in tubes and kept in a nursery for 30-90 days before being taken to planting in the field (sowing of pre-germinated seeds).

The tubes also do away with the need for reverse logistics since they decompose completely – and the nitrogen-rich malt bagasse provides nutrients to the seedlings, also reducing substrate costs. In addition, the TOCO technology contributes to forest conservation projects as it allows for an increase in the number of tree seedlings planted per hectare.

Climate change – The mitigation of traditional plastic tubes by biodegradable tubes has led to a significant reduction in environmental impacts – mainly in terms of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the stages of planting seedlings. According to Cláudio Bastos, TOCO makes a direct and measurable contribution to global programs to reduce CO2 emissions. “On 36,000 hectares planted with biodegradable tubes, the emission of 1 ton of CO2eq is avoided,” he says confidently.

Distinguished partners – The positive impacts of biodegradable tubes are noticeable in the quality and survival of the seedlings and in the resulting yields. It is not by chance that TOCO Engenharia e Inovação Ambiental relies on distinguished partnerships such as with Embrapa and the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, which is conducting field tests in nurseries, such as the Vale Natural Reserve’s; Instituto Terra’s, Sebastião Salgado’s; the NGO SOS Mata Atlântica; and Suzano’s Arboretum Program.