What do the banana plant and the 1967 Dustin Hoffman classic, “The Graduate,” have in common?
One word: plastics.
After bananas are harvested, the plant material left behind normally goes to waste. However, researchers at Queen’s University Belfast are testing a new technique to use banana plants in the production of plastic products.
The Polymer Processing Research Centre at Queen’s is taking part in a €1 million study known as the Badana project. The project will develop new procedures to incorporate by-products from banana plantations in the Canary Islands into the production of plastics. In addition to the environmental benefits, the project will increase the profitability of banana plantation owners and provide better job security for those working in the area.
“Almost 20 per cent of the bananas consumed in Europe are produced in the Canary Islands, with around 10 million banana plants grown annually in Gran Canaria alone,” said Mark Kearns, rotational moulding manager at the Polymer Processing Research Centre in Queen’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “Once the fruit has been harvested, the rest of the banana plant goes to waste. An estimated 25,000 tonnes of this natural fibre is dumped in ravines around the Canaries every year.”
The Badana project aims to put that valuable fibre to better use.
“The natural fibres contained within them may be used in the production of rotationally moulded plastics, which are used to make everyday items such as oil tanks, wheelie bins, water tanks, traffic cones, plastic dolls and many types of boats,” Kearns said. “The banana plant fibres will be processed, treated and added to a mix of plastic material and sandwiched between two thin layers of pure plastic providing excellent structural properties. The project gives a whole new meaning to ‘banana sandwich.’ ”
Incorporating banana waste into plastics promises “substantial environmental benefits,” according to Kearns.
“It will hopefully result in a substantial reduction in the amount of polyethylene used in the rotational moulding process, ushering in a new and more sustainable era in the production of rotationally moulded plastics,” he said. “The research and development of this new approach will help create jobs and the banana plantations will ultimately benefit financially from the sale of the remains of millions of harvested banana plants, which would otherwise go to waste.”
Interesting! I wonder how much energy it takes to produce plastics this way.
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