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Old 07-10-2019, 03:28 PM   #1
JColt
This new biodegradable plastic is made from cactus

https://www.fastcompany.com/90365199...KnBjI6bZgoe6tc

While some Earth-friendly plastic is now made from corn, cacti don’t need the resources and can be grown on land we don’t need for food production.

In a university lab near Guadalajara, Mexico, researchers trim cactus leaves and feed them into a juicer, creating a bright green liquid. When it’s mixed with other natural materials and processed, it undergoes an impressive transformation: The cactus juice becomes a biodegradable plastic.

It’s one experiment to help tackle the world’s plastic problem. Around nineteen billion pounds of plastic ends up in the ocean each year, and as plastic breaks down there and in landfills, it makes its way into the food system; people now eat an annual diet of more than 50,000 pieces of microplastic. Plastic made from cactus wouldn’t necessarily help stop the flow of trash into waterways. But the researchers say that the material biodegrades quickly and is nontoxic if it’s eaten. And unlike plastic made from fossil fuels, the cactus-based plastic is carbon neutral as it breaks down–the carbon dioxide it emits equals the carbon dioxide it took in as a plant as it grew.


The prickly pear cactus used in the experiment, which grows locally, is well suited to become plastic. “The cactus of this species contains a large amount of sugars and gums that favor the formation of the biopolymer,” says Sandra Pascoe Ortiz, a chemical engineering professor at the University of the Valley of Atemajac, who is leading the research.

Cactus also has another advantage over some other plants that are currently used to make plastic. Corn, for example, which is often used to make compostable forks or cups, still has an environmental footprint from the fertilizer and other resources used to grow it. It’s also using land that could be used to grow food. Cactus, which survives in harsh environments with little or no intervention, can grow on land that doesn’t make sense for farming. “It does not require much care for its cultivation and production,” says Pascoe Ortiz.

The resulting material isn’t yet as long-lasting as plastic made from fossil fuels. But it could still be useful in some applications. “We are thinking of products that are disposable, single-use, or that do not need to be durable,” she says. It may also be more biodegradable than other alternatives; corn-based plastic, for example, is unlikely to break down unless it’s in an industrial composting facility, and most consumers still don’t have access to that type of facility. The cactus-based plastic can biodegrade in a backyard composter within a few months.

The researchers are currently working with a company that is interested in bringing the material to market.
 
Old 07-10-2019, 05:52 PM   #2
Socratic Monologue
I like the idea of biodegradable plastic. This part had me scratching my head, though:
Quote:
Originally Posted by JColt View Post
Cactus also has another advantage over some other plants that are currently used to make plastic. Corn, for example, which is often used to make compostable forks or cups, still has an environmental footprint from the fertilizer and other resources used to grow it. It’s also using land that could be used to grow food. Cactus, which survives in harsh environments with little or no intervention, can grow on land that doesn’t make sense for farming. “It does not require much care for its cultivation and production,” says Pascoe Ortiz.
On not using land that could be used to grow food: nopales is food. More healthy than anything made out of corn, too.

On corn's environmental footprint: yeah, the way we grow it. If cactus became commercially valuable on a large scale, you'd see scientists breeding cactus to respond to irrigation and fertilizer (just like they did with corn), and the situation would be just like the American Midwest, except now we'd have an excuse to trash desert environments.

I think the holdup with bioplastics is that (1) the infrastructure for industrial composting isn't in place, so it really isn't biodegradable*; and (2) petroleum plastic is cheaper; harvesting cactus from "land that doesn't make sense for farming" is not going to be a financially feasible solution.

*https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2017/1...t-bioplastics/
 
Old 07-10-2019, 06:11 PM   #3
WebSlave
I could be wrong, but I don't think cactus grows nearly quickly enough to become a viable commercial crop. I've got a few prickly pear patches on my property, and even with the rains of north Florida, they haven't gotten much bigger in YEARS here. I don't think you could treat it like a yearly crop like you can do with corn.
 
Old 07-10-2019, 07:05 PM   #4
Socratic Monologue
Folks grow/harvest Opuntia to sell for tortoise food, I think. I wonder how they get quantities of it.
 
Old 07-11-2019, 04:31 PM   #5
JColt
Quote:
Originally Posted by Socratic Monologue View Post
nopales
Haven't thought of that in years. When I was a teen my friends mom used it with scrambled eggs and sausage mixed in. Very good.

Quote:
Originally Posted by WebSlave View Post
I could be wrong, but I don't think cactus grows nearly quickly enough to become a viable commercial crop. I've got a few prickly pear patches on my property, and even with the rains of north Florida, they haven't gotten much bigger in YEARS here. I don't think you could treat it like a yearly crop like you can do with corn.
I think there is a dozen different species of prickly pear and grow best in desert conditions. Some in higher elevation of 9000 feet. I remember when I lived in Fl though they were all over the place.
 

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