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29 April 2015

Vegetable-based plastic: the University of Genoa issues a challenge to the world’s chemical giants

Italy at the forefront of innovation in eco-friendly materials for packaging.

Plastic is one of the waste materials with the greatest environmental impact. If we consider that an estimated 290 million tons of plastic waste is produced annually throughout the world, then it is clear that any proposal which simplifies its disposal is important.
The Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Genoa has proposed one to tackle this problem. The scientists at this important institution in Italy’s Liguria region discovered a revolutionary way to produce bioplastics using coffee, cinnamon and parsley waste.
Considering that in Europe we produce about 28 million tonnes of vegetable waste, this discovery brings a double advantage: processing waste can be recovered in full and can also be reused in applications which, in turn, can reduce the consumption of raw materials and pollution.
Using a relatively simple process, the waste coffee, parsley and cinnamon are treated with polymers and natural solvents, producing a malleable material that can be used just like the polymers currently derived from petroleum, except that this material is completely biodegradable.
Depending on the plant used, vegetable plastics with different properties can be obtained: for example, with parsley antioxidant and antimicrobial plastic can be created, while using cinnamon produces a sterile material. Organic plastic made using coffee is even able to absorb heavy metals in water.
100% green, zero kilometres plastic would also help solve the problem of disposing of organic waste. This is a very important market but the costs are high: the price of regular plastic is about one euro per kilo as against the estimated amount of €6 to €7 for bioplastic. However, with a strong production chain the cost can be contained.

Science has done its part, now it is up to industry to take its turn.

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