Mexico’s prickly pear cactus, which is emblazoned on the country’s flag, could soon play a new and innovative role in the production of biodegradable plastics. A scientist named Sandra Pascoe Ortiz developed the biodegradable product from cactus juice while working at the Atemajac Valley University in the western city of Guadalajara, Mexico. Packaging materials made from Cactus is offering a promising solution to one of the world’s biggest pollution conundrums.
Characteristics of Cactus as a Biodegradable Plastic Ingredient
The nopal cactus has certain chemical characteristics with which one could obtain a polymer, and when combined with some other natural substances, a non-toxic biodegradable plastic would be obtained. The process is a mixture of compounds whose base is the nopal. It’s purely non-toxic and would produce no harm when ingested both by animals or humans. That substance is then mixed with non-toxic additives and stretched to produce sheets that are colored with pigments and folded to form different types of packaging.
The Biodegradability of Cactus-made Plastic
The new material begins to break down after sitting in the soil for a month and when left in water, it breaks down in a matter of days. Plus, it doesn’t require crude oil like traditional plastics.
In May 2019, Guadalajara adopted a “historic” ban on plastic bags beginning in 2020. From 2021, straws, plastic plates and cutlery, and balloons will be banned if they’re made “entirely or partially from plastic,” according to the bill adopted by its congress.
In this scenario, Pascoe’s cactus made biodegradable plastic material would be no more than a “drop in the ocean” in the battle to preserve the environment. Given the rampant production of industrial plastics and the time it takes to make her material, there needs to be other recycling strategies to make a concrete difference.