In early June of 2019, a group of engineers figured out a way to cut down on the amount of single-use plastics being sent to landfill, clogging our landfills and polluting the oceans by replacing them with a biodegradable material made from a cactus that produces the prickly pear fruit, which is found in countries such as Australia, Ethiopia, South Africa and Morocco. Opuntia, commonly called prickly pear, is a genus in the cactus family, Cactaceae.
How The Cactus Plastic Degrades
This new plastic alternative, mostly consisting of the juice of cactus leaves, very quickly and rapidly biodegrades and doesn’t require it to be made from crude oil, like normal plastic. This could be a potentially less harmful way to package food and other goods. With this scheme of new ways to make plastic we could see the amount of packaging and plastic sent to landfill decrease drastically. How this biodegradable plastic works is by after sitting in soil for a month it starts to break down where as in water, it begins to break down in a matter of days.
The process of the cactus juice plastic.
Sandra Pascoe Ortiz from the ‘University of the Valley of Atemajac engineer’ who developed the material told reporters “it’s a non- toxic product, all the materials we use can ingested both by humans or animals, and they would cause any harm”. Since the launch of this biodegradable plastic, the manufacturing process is currently limited to Ortiz’s lab, where she spends a period of ten days creating a batch out of cactus juice and a brilliant blend of other renewable ingredients. Ortiz stated she could speed up the process of even competing with plastic that we use every day, if her operation expanded and moved to an industrial facility.
What Does This Mean For The Environment?
This is a new inspirational change to the meaning of the word plastic, if the new biodegradable plastics make their way into the ocean, they’ll either feed the fishes or dissolve in the water in a short time instead of causing more harm to wildlife and marine life. Currently 18 billion pounds of plastic waste flows into our oceans every year, with this biodegradable plastic we could see these numbers fall massively over the next few years.