An Indian-origin researcher, Professor Jayashree Arcot and Professor Martina Stenzel led team at the University of New South Wales, Australia, on Friday announced that they have discovered a way to turn banana plantation waste into packaging material. The best part is that the researcherd packaging would be biodegradable and recyclable.
“What makes the banana growing business particularly wasteful compared to other fruit crops is the fact that the plant dies after each harvest,” Arcot from UNSW School of Chemical Engineering, said in a statement.
“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 added.
Grown at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, the researchers used a reliable supply of pseudostem material from banana plants and extracted cellulose to test its suitability as a packaging alternative.
“The pseudostem is 90 per cent water, so the solid material ends up reducing down to about 10 per cent,” 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,” she said. This powder is then washed with a very soft chemical treatment which isolates nano-cellulose which is a material of high value with a whole range of applications, they said.
“One of those applications that interested us greatly was packaging, particularly single-use food packaging where so much ends up in landfill,” said Stenzel.
”When processed, the material has a consistency similar to baking paper and depending on the intended thickness, the material could be used in a number of different formats in food packaging” Arcot said.
Tests with food have proved that it poses no contamination risks.
Jayashree Arcot completed Bachelor’s and Master’s from the University of Madras, and PhD from AP Agricultural University, Hyderabad and has been at UNSW since 1990.