Mexican Scientist Found A Way To Turn Nopal Cactus Into Biodegradable Plastic

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With the growing crisis of plastic waste, researchers have looked for ways to cut down on single-use plastics, with many cities and countries around the world seeking to put an end to plastic bags, straws, and several other common products in favor of more sustainable and environmentally sound options.

Mexican Scientist Found A Way To Turn Nopal Cactus Into Biodegradable Plastic

With the growing crisis of plastic waste, researchers have looked for ways to cut down on single-use plastics, with many cities and countries around the world seeking to put an end to plastic bags, straws, and several other common products in favor of more sustainable and environmentally sound options.


At the University of the Valley of Atemajac (UNIVA) that lies outside of Guadalajara in Mexico’s Jalisco state, chemical engineering professor Sandra Pascoe Ortiz has discovered a novel alternative to plastic—one based on nopal, or prickly pear cactus, that's long been a national symbol of Mexico and a crucial staple of the Mexican diet.


Pascoe and her students have devised a way to form a new biodegradable plastic by using the juice from the edible cactus’ fruit, also known as the tuna, to make the innovative new product.


The cactus-based plastic is formed out of the juice of the nopal, that contains sugars, pectin, and organic acids which grant it a viscous consistency.


When the juice is blended with a mixture of colorants, proteins, glycerol, natural waxes and decanted to remove the fiber, the formula is dried out on a hot plate to produce the plastic.




In an interview with EFE news agency in 2018, Pascoe explained how she collaborated with the University of Guadalajara Center for Biological and Agricultural Sciences to measure just how quickly and in which conditions the new biodegradable plastic would break down.


The invention could provide a vital substitute for the commonly used petroleum-based plastics, which are choking waterways and ocean life worldwide. The biodegradable plastic would either harmlessly dissolve or feed sea creatures instead of contributing to their demise.


For the time being, though, the production of the cactus-based plastic is limited to Pascoe’s lab, where she and her students spend time manufacturing the potentially revolutionary substitute.


Her former students have experimented with using the formula to produce toys for their children, as KJZZ reported.


Michelle Mendoza, who continues working with Pascoe despite having completed her industrial engineering, said:


“My daughter loves to buy toys in the markets and then once she played with it one day, she didn’t want it anymore.”


Therefore, Mendoza made strawberry-shaped plastics which excited her daughter for a bit, though they met the same fate as the rest of her toys and were discarded after a day in “the same way,” she laughingly said, pointing out that at least the nopal-based toys can be dissolved in water after three weeks unlike plastic toys.


Professor Sandra Pascoe Ortiz is hopeful that one day, her biodegradable plastic can be used commercially, even though she does not have plans to turn a huge profit and become some bio-plastic tycoon.


Instead, she hopes to continue her work as a researcher and reduce the impact of solid waste in Mexico and around the world.

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Thinking Humanity: Mexican Scientist Found A Way To Turn Nopal Cactus Into Biodegradable Plastic
Mexican Scientist Found A Way To Turn Nopal Cactus Into Biodegradable Plastic
With the growing crisis of plastic waste, researchers have looked for ways to cut down on single-use plastics, with many cities and countries around the world seeking to put an end to plastic bags, straws, and several other common products in favor of more sustainable and environmentally sound options.
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