Plastic pollution is a pressing environmental problem in the twenty-first century. Palm oil production, in turn, is associated with widespread deforestation and destruction of animal habitats. Biodegradable plastic sheeting made from palm oil wastes will solve both problems, scientists believe.
In addition to plastic waste, Malaysia alone produces 19.8 million tonnes of palm oil waste annually. To reduce the environmental impact of these waste forms, the researchers converted hemicellulose from palm oil waste into a biodegradable film.
Hemicellulose is found in agricultural waste. It is a promising biopolymer for the production of films – it is flexible, has low gas permeability and high water resistance. Hemicellulose is also known as the main component of fruit bunches that are discarded by palm oil producers.
While many of the properties of this polymer make it a potential viable alternative to plastic, its fragility is an issue. To solve the problem, scientists mixed it with non-toxic, commercially available biopolymer carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC). This combination has already positively influenced the mechanical properties, transparency, flexibility, and moisture absorption of other biopolymers.
This new hemicellulose-blended material represents a promising alternative to polluting non-biodegradable plastics. Although the production of biopolymers from palm wastes does not prevent further deforestation, the use of this by-product increases the cost of the crop and, as the study authors note, “the environmental impact will be reduced by reducing waste.” They also hope that the inclusion of additives that will make hemicellulose-based films electronic or photocatalytically active, which will expand their range of applications in the future.