Biodegradable ‘plastic’ bags created out of banana plants sounds a bit bananas, however, a couple of UNSW researchers have discovered a way to do it, and it could solve two industrial waste problems in one.
Two at UNSW Sydney have found a novel approach to convert banana plantation waste into packaging fabric that is not only biodegradable but also recyclable. Professor Martina Stenzel and Associate Professor Jayashree Arcot were working on methods to turn agricultural waste into something that might add value to the trade it came from while probably solving issues for another.
A good contender was the banana rising trade, which, according to A/Prof Arcot, produces massive amounts of natural waste, with merely 12% of the plant being used (the fruit). In contrast, the rest is discarded after harvest.
A/Prof Arcot and Prof Stenzel questioned whether the pseudostems could be valuable sources of cellulose—a crucial structural component of plant cell walls—that could be utilized in packaging, paper products, textiles, and even medical applications akin to wound therapeutic and drug delivery.
Using a reliable supply of pseudostem materials from banana plants grown on the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, the pair set to work in extracting cellulose to test its compatibility as a packaging option.
Arcot said she and Prof Stenzel have confirmed in exams that the material breaks down organically after placing ‘films‘ of the cellulose material in the soil for six months. The outcomes confirmed that the sheets of cellulose had been well on the way to disintegrating in the soil samples.
Other applications of agricultural waste that the duo has looked at are within the cotton sector and rice-growing sector—they’ve extracted cellulose from waste cotton gathered from cotton gins as well as rice paddy husks.