The nopal: a possible solution to the plastic problem

The nopal is a group of plants belonging to the cactus family. They are present in much of the American continent, from the United States to Patagonia.

yesOnly in Mexico, there are more than 300 varieties. There, the nopal has symbolic, medicinal and also culinary value. A researcher from that country, Sandra Pascoe, decided to experiment with the leaves of the plant as a possible substitute for single-use plastics, which do so much damage to the Earth.

Pascoe developed a bioplastic that naturally degrades over a month if left on the ground. It is also edible for animals and does not pollute the water. His goal is to become an alternative to the growing use of plastic.

Despite being made from a vegetable leaf, it is as versatile as the plastic we all know. Pascoe believes that his product can partially meet the needs of the market, since it can be used to create cutlery, bags and other single-use products.

If this material were to reach the sea, it would most likely be eaten by marine animals. But unlike traditional plastic, nopal bioplastic would not cause any harm to their organisms.

Pascoe obtains his nopal leaves from plantations in San Esteban, a town outside Guadalajara that is surrounded by nopal plantations. The process involves cutting the leaves, peeling them, and then placing them in a juice extractor. The liquid is refrigerated for 10 days, and is combined with a non-toxic additive. The mixture is spread on a surface and allowed to dry.

According to the researcher, the material is very versatile and can be used in many different ways to obtain different thicknesses, shapes and colours.

At the moment, Pascoe is concentrating on objects that replace single-use plastics, since the useful life of the compound is not very long. Over time, he believes its usefulness can be optimized and its production speeded up if it is brought to an industrial setting.

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