Scientists have designed a “green” dinnerware set made from sugar cane and bamboo that does not sacrifice convenience or functionality and could serve as a potential alternative to plastic cups and other disposable plastic containers.
Unlike traditional plastics or biodegradable polymers, which can take up to 450 years or require high temperatures to degrade, this non-toxic and eco-friendly material only takes 60 days to break down and is clean enough to hold your morning coffee or dinner to go. . While these bowls and
“To be honest, when I first came to the US in 2007, I was amazed at the single-use plastic containers available at the supermarket.” says corresponding author Hongli (Julie) Zhu from Northeastern University. “It makes our lives easier, but in the meantime, it becomes a waste that cannot be decomposed in the environment.”
Later, he saw many more plastic bowls, plates and utensils thrown away at seminars and parties and thought, “Can we use a more sustainable material?”
To find an alternative to plastic food packaging, Zhu and his colleagues turned to bamboo and one of the food industry’s largest waste products: bagasse, also known as sugarcane pulp.
By winding long, thin bamboo fibers with short, thick bagasse fibers to form a tight web, the team molded containers of the two materials that were mechanically stable and biodegradable.
Not only is the new green dinnerware strong enough to hold liquids like plastic and cleaner than biodegradable ones made from recycled materials that may not be fully deinked, it also starts to break down after being on the floor for 30-45 days and completely loses its shape after two months.
“Making food containers is a challenge. It needs more than being biodegradable, ”Zhu said. “On the one hand, we need a material that is safe for food; on the other hand, the container must have a good mechanical resistance when wet and be very clean because the container will be used to drink hot coffee, hot lunch “.
The researchers added alkyl ketene dimer (AKD), an environmentally friendly chemical widely used in the food industry, to increase the oil and water resistance of molded tableware, ensuring product solidity when wet. With the addition of this ingredient, the new tableware, which is still in the development stage, outperformed commercial biodegradable food packaging, such as other bagasse-based tableware and egg cartons, in mechanical strength, grease resistance and no toxicity.
The tableware that researchers developed features in the journal to import, and it comes with another advantage: a significantly lower carbon footprint. The manufacturing process of the new product emits 97% less CO2 than commercially available plastic packaging and 65% less CO2 than paper products and biodegradable plastic.
The next step for the team is to make the manufacturing process more energy efficient and further reduce cost to compete with plastic. Although the cost of cups made from the new material ($ 2,333 / t) is twice as low as biodegradable plastic ($ 4,750 / t), traditional plastic cups are still slightly cheaper ($ 2,177 / t). ).
“It is difficult to ban people from using single-use containers because it is cheap and convenient,” says Zhu. “But I think one of the good solutions is to use more sustainable materials, to use biodegradable materials to make these single-use packaging.”
(Source: Cell Press)
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