A researcher from the University of the Valley of Atemajac in Mexico has developed a bioplastic made from cactus juice. Designer Sandra Pascoe has sourced the liquid from the nopal cactus — also known as the prickly pear — an abundant (and edible) cactus species found in Mexico. The development of bioplastics such as Pascoe's innovation is vital as the material is an alternative to petrolum-based single-use plastics which distrubt and pollute our natural habitats.
Initially Pascoe peels the liquid of the plant then extracts the organic acids, pectin and sugars ( monosaccharides and polysaccharides) found in the juice of the plant. These biological materials gives the plant’s liquid a viscous consistency from which a solid material can be produced. To eliminate the fibrous texture within the liquid, the juice is mixed with natural waxes, colourants, glycerol and proteins. Once combined, the liquid it is left to dry on a hot plate where it transforms from a viscous liquid into a thin and rigid plastic-like material. Pascoe’s process takes 10 days, but if developed industrially, the process could be significantly quicker.
Pascoe’s bioplastic is biodegradable and completely breaks down when placed in moist compost over a few months. The non-toxic bioplastic also biodegrades in boiling water, and the dissolved liquid substance can be placed in soil to aid plant growth. The bioplastic can be altered in thickness so it varies in degree of flexibility, and it can be used for a range of applications, from shopping bags to children’s toys.
Currently Pascoe is developing the material and working with various companies to bring the cactus plastic to the market next year.