Better Bioplastic Built From Nut Shells and Plant Stems

pistacio shells photo

Photo by Marco Arment via Flickr Creative Commons

One of the major sticking points for making plastics from plants such as corn is that it takes a lot of fossil fuel and resources to grow a crop, just to turn it into plastic that is still difficult to recycle. The pros of plant-based plastics don't really out-weigh the cons. But what if bioplastic could be made from plant waste that is on hand anyway? That's what reserachers at NEC are hoping to create, having formed a plastic made from 70% plant waste, including stems and cashew nut shells. Engadget highlights a press release from NEC on its new bioplastic, which states that the cellulose and cardanol used in the plastics come from stems and nut shells that are abundant resources, discarded as byproducts from the agricultural industry. By perfecting the formula to make it suitable for electronics, the company feels it could decrease its oil footprint.

Their new plastic is reportedly twice as strong as PLA (corn-based plastic), twice as beat resistant, three times as water resistant, and can be molded in half the time. The company feels confident the plastic could appear in their products as quickly as 2013, once the formula and sourcing of materials is hammered down.

The recyclability of the plastic is not mentioned, however. PLA requires special recycling processes, and can't be recycled alongside other plastics, which makes sorting it out and dealing with it at end of life an extra hassle. Will this new plastic be able to recycle alongside PLA? This is a big question to be answered before we can get too excited about it.

But it is promising that our gadgets can be created in part from existing plant waste, rather than oil or new crops. It seems to already be a step up from PLA.

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