Scientists turn plant waste into biodegradable plastic

Image credit: Deakin University

Deakin University textile and fibre scientists have discovered how to turn plant waste into biodegradable material that could replace environmentally-damaging plastics.

Head researcher, Dr Maryam Naebe and Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM) team, have developed bioplastics from repurposed cotton gin trash. The seeds, stems, short fibres, and other waste products left behind from the ginning process are used to separate cotton fibres.

“About 29 million tonnes of cotton lint is produced each year but up to a third of that ends up as cotton gin trash, where it’s then sent to landfill or burned, representing a major environmental impact and lost material value,” Dr Naebe said.

“Adding value to this waste product will give cotton growers and farmers an additional income stream, while also offering a sustainable alternative to harmful synthetic plastics.”

Deakins IFM researchers dissolved cotton leftovers using environmentally-friendly chemicals and then re-cast the recovered bio polymer into a useable bioplastic film. The team has been working on transforming cotton gin trash for more than 18 months.

“Cotton gin trash is a promising source of renewable biomass, because when it’s broken down the resulting organic polymer can potentially be converted into a versatile biodegradable material,” Dr Naebe said.

“The bioplastic can biodegrade and turn into soil, which will then in turn be used to grow cotton.”

The IFM team are now applying its process to other organic waste and fibrous plant materials including lemongrass, hemp, almond shells, wheat straw, wood saw dust, and wood shavings.