Researchers want to replace fossil plastic with banana peels

20 February 2024 15:48

Innovation

Brookings - Banana peels could replace plastic as the main ingredient in grocery bags and other products, claim researchers at South Dakota State University. The researchers blended the plentiful peels, which are now discarded, and used chemicals to turn them into a thin but strong biodegradable film.

Bananas are the fourth most commonly grown crop on the planet behind rice, wheat, and corn. Yet much of the tree fruit – the peels – ends up in landfills.

Now South Dakota State University researchers believe they could recycle banana peels as well as avocado skins and other plants into film-like materials that could replace plastic, cutting a major source of pollution and cutting greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

"Many of us consume at least one banana a day," said Srinivas Janaswamy, an associate professor of food chemistry at the university’s Department of Dairy and Food Science, in a February 15 press release. "After enjoying the delicious fruit, we discard the peel. What if we could find a use for the peel that helps eliminate plastic waste?"

Banana peels contain so-called “lignocellulosic” material, or cellulose and polymers, that can be processed into plastic-like films. The key difference between banana peel-based products and plastic ones is that the former is plentiful and biodegradable, said Janaswamy.

Janaswamy and his team blended peels and extracted the lignocellulosic material via a chemical process. Strong enough to replace plastic grocery bags and similar wares, the films biodegrade within 30 days in soils with 21 percent moisture content. They published their findings in the academic journal Sustainable Chemistry and Pharmacy.

The professor noted that farms worldwide grow around 220 tons of banana peels per 2.5 acres. That amounts to 36 million tons annually. Banana production, additionally, increased by 10 percent between 2010 and 2020 and demand grew. ce/jd

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