Researchers develop biodegradable, recyclable material made from banana waste

Researchers develop biodegradable, recyclable material made from banana waste

Researchers develop biodegradable, recyclable material made from banana waste:

Researchers at the University of New South Wales have discovered a novel way to turn banana plantation waste into recyclable, biodegradable packaging material.

Over the past few months, Packaging Europe has been exploring innovative bio-based alternatives to single-use plastics – from spray-on edible peels to flexible films made from waste crustacean shells. Now, Australian scientists have made a discovery in this field that they believe could provide a sustainable packaging solution while at the same time preventing food waste.

Associate Professor Jayashree Arcot and Professor Martina Stenzel were looking for ways to convert agricultural waste into a useful product when the banana-growing industry came to their attention. According to A/Prof Arcot, in most cases, only 12% of the banana plant (the fruit) is actually used, with the rest being discarded post-harvest.

“What makes the banana-growing business particularly wasteful compared to other fruit crops is the fact that the plant dies after each harvest,” said A/Prof Arcot.

“We were particularly interested in the pseudostems – basically the layered, fleshy trunk of the plant which is cut down after each harvest and mostly discarded on the field. Some of it is used for textiles, some as compost, but other than that, it’s a huge waste,” she continued.

A/Prof Arcot and Prof Stenzel wondered whether the pseudostems would be valuable sources of cellulose – an important structural component of plant cell walls – that could be used in packaging, paper products, textiles and even medical applications such as wound healing and drug delivery.

“The pseudostem is 90% water, so the solid material ends up reducing down to about 10%,” A/Prof Arcot said. “We bring the pseudostem into the lab and chop it into pieces, dry it at very low temperatures in a drying oven, and then mill it into a very fine powder.”

Prof Stenzel continued: “We then take this powder and wash it with a very soft chemical treatment. This isolates what we call nano-cellulose which is a material of high value with a whole range of applications. One of those applications that interested us greatly was packaging, particularly single-use food packaging where so much ends up in landfill.”

When processed, the material reportedly has a consistency similar to baking paper.

Pictures: Richard Freeman/UNSW


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