Two researchers at UNSW Sydney are looking into a way to turn banana plantation waste into packaging material that is both biodegradable and recyclable. Associate Professor Jayashree Arcot, UNSW School of Chemical Engineering and Professor Martina Stenzel, UNSW School of Chemistry were looking for ways to convert agricultural waste into something that could add value to the industry it was a by-product of, while potentially solving problems for another.
According to Associate Professor Arcot, the banana industry produces large amounts of organic waste, with only 12 per cent of the plant being used (the fruit) while the rest is discarded after harvest.
"What makes the banana growing business particularly wasteful compared to other fruit crops is the fact that the plant dies after each harvest," Associate Professor Arcot told goodfruitandvegetables.com.au.
"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."
Associate Professor Arcot and Professor Stenzel wondered whether the pseudostems would be valuable sources of cellulose - an important structural component of plant cell walls - that could be used in packaging, paper products, textiles and even medical applications such as wound healing and drug delivery.
Using a reliable supply of pseudostem material from banana plants grown at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, the duo set to work in extracting cellulose to test its suitability as a packaging alternative.
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