Researchers at the University of Valle de Atemajac near Guadalajara, Mexico, have figured out how to make biodegradable plastics from the juice of the edible nopal cactus, commonly known as the prickly pear cactus. Tests have shown that this bright green liquid undergoes a magical transformation, when mixed with other natural materials. In short, it becomes a bio-plastic.
About 19 billion pounds of plastic end up in the ocean each year. On average, humans consume about 50,000 pieces of microplastic each year because plastics break down in landfills and make their way into the food system. While developments like this biodegradable cactus-based plastic make positive strides toward a healthier nontoxic future, there aren’t enough biodegradable options to balance the plastic that is produced worldwide.
Plastic Fact: Roughly 1.15-2.41 million tons of plastic enter the ocean from rivers each year. Divers found a KFC bag from the 1970s off the coast of Queensland, Australia during an ocean cleanup about a month ago.
This new plastic starts to break down after one month in the soil or home composter, and within days of it being in the water. Do you understand what that means??? That means that if cactus-based plastic makes its way into the ocean or rivers, it will safely dissolve. Should this development replace actual plastics, we won’t have to look at videos of straws in turtle noses online anymore. Yay for eco-friendly developments! Unlike plastics made from fossil fuels, the cactus-based plastic is carbon neutral. It is made from the cactus juice sugars, which have a viscous consistency, making it easier to produce solid material. After fiber is removed from the juice, it is mixed with glycerol, proteins, natural waxes, and colorants. It is dried on a hot plat to yield think plastic sheets.
Plastic Fact: In the beginning months of 2019, a dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, which is the deepest point of the ocean, discovered a single plastic bag.
Corn, which is currently used to make compostable forks or cups, has an environmental footprint because of the fertilizers and other resources that are used during the growing process. Cactus, on the other hand, is a survivor of a plant that doesn’t require specific growing conditions, growing in areas that you wouldn’t think of for farming.
The only downside to this new cactus-plastic is that it isn’t as long lasting as plastic made from fossil fuels. It will be single-use only because of the current durability. The plus side is that it is more biodegradable than the other plastic alternatives on the market. The researchers aren’t just stopping at plastic utensils, though. The creation of cactus-plastic has opened the door to start creating shopping bags, jewelry, toys, and cosmetic containers. Tests to determine how much weight the plastic can hold are currently being conducted. Finally, the researchers have teamed up with several companies that are interested in making this new bio-plastic a large scale operation. We want to leave you with this: a lot of damage has been done to the environment, but it is never too late to start making positive changes.