A Colombian person uses in average six plastic bags a week, which supposes approximately 288 bags a year. Each bag is produced with polyethylene, a polymer derived from hydrocarbons, which lasts 400 years to degrade.
Knowing that plastic bags have such a short life cycle and an extremely long degradation period, two young researchers from Universidad Autonoma de Occidente en Cali, Colombia, Laura Viviana Arenas and Javier Eduardo Lopez, students of tenth semester of Environmental Engineering, carried out a research project called ‘Potential Uses of the Banana Peel: Production of a Bioplastic.’
«This project represents a challenge for us; the idea is to innovate with a product that cannot be commercially found today, something out of the conventional. In this case we are talking about a product that we all regularly use; sometimes we use it for a short period of time before disposing of. Our challenge with this organic waste is to find out what kind of raw material we can produce. Thus, we consider the different factors that affect society such as the environmental impact, and we relate them in order to create a new product,” stated Javier Eduardo Lopez, member of the research seedbed in Biomass harnessing.
About the project
The project intends to use bioplastic as a material for the replacement of conventional plastic bags used in agriculture as a way to transport plants, since the bags are torn and disposed of once they arrive where sowing takes place.
«Many products found today on the market are said to be biodegradable because they have some type of vegetable fiber, but they are mixed with polyethylene or polypropylene and therefore, they are labeled as biodegradable products. The difference is that our product is a hundred per cent biological; that is to say, we are departing from renewable raw material which does not compete with the food supply and is not of fossil origin. Also, it is made by a type of biochemical transformation», assures Luz Marina Lopez Pardo, director of the research seedbed and professor in the Energetics and Mechanics department of the Engineering Faculty.
According to this research, seven banana peels can produce two plastic cups of seven ounces. A product like the bioplastic is a biodegradable and reusable alternative to supply the production of plastics derived from petroleum, mitigating the environmental impact that is taking place in locations such as the Colombian Pacific Ocean, where half a million marine species die because of bottles, bags and plastic packaging that are being disposed of in the sea.