Can Cactus Reduce Global Warming?

Recent posts from the BBC, Futurism and Fronteras about bioplastic made from cactus caught my eye. So let’s explore this!

How does bioplastic help to fight global warming? Plastic is made out of oil. From extracting the oil to manufacturing plastic, greenhouse gases are emitted. After we use plastic, it ends up in the environment or in landfills, where it degrades over hundreds of years, emitting greenhouse gases. Alternatively, plastic trash is burnt which also releases greenhouse gases. Besides that, it releases toxins, harms our oceans and enters our food chain. Project Drawdown estimates that by replacing half our plastic with bioplastic by 2050, 4.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions can be avoided.

So, how do we switch to bioplastic? Previously I wrote about amazing bioplastic solutions from teams all over the world. I covered Notpla’s seaweed pouches from London, and Cove’s PHA bottles from California. This week’s innovation comes from the hot deserts of Mexico.

Imagine a very, very bright green – that’s what cactus juice looks like. Sandra Pascoe Ortiz, a chemical engineering professor from Guadalajara, developed a way to turn this green cactus juice into bioplastic. This is how it works:

She starts by harvesting and peeling cactus leaves. Then she juices and chills the cactus concentrate. After that, the concentrate is mixed with glycerin and wax and finally it is laminated. Sandra has produced bioplastic with different colors, shapes, and flexibility.

What I like most about her approach is that it’s made entirely from renewable resources. She has been researching cactus plastic for over 6 years and says more research needed. Let’s hope we can use her bioplastic one day soon!

Sign up for weekly inspiration right in your inbox

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Can we Turn Greenhouse Gases into Water Bottles?

As user experience designers we create customer journeys. In those journeys or scenarios we design how a customer might use our product. Imagine we wanted to design a smartwatch. We don’t just think about the moment someone interacts with the watch but sketch out an entire day. This helps us make better design decisions.

That got me thinking… What is the customer journey of a plastic bottle? We drink the water, but what happens before and after? What is the entire lifecycle of a water bottle? This is what I sketched up…

Lifecycle of a water bottle from production to

Nearly all bottles are made from petroleum. During the oil extraction and the manufacturing of plastic, greenhouse gasses are released into the air. Then during transportation more greenhouse gases are released. After we enjoy the water and throw it away, I sketched five different endings:

  • A. Recycle into other plastics for carpets or tiles (only 7 % of plastic in the US is recycled)
  • B. Greenhouse gases and toxins are released when burning plastic
  • C. It takes hundreds of years to decompose and toxins each into soil and groundwater when put in the landfill
  • D. In the ocean it kills and negatively affects marine life and ends up in our food chain
  • E. When decomposing into microplastics it kills or harms bacteria that convert carbon dioxide into oxygen

I promised you positive and inspiring stories and so far this post has been pretty depressing. In a recent post I featured water pouches made from algae.

Here is another fantastic startup, this time from California.  Cove makes water bottles out of polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) – wow, that’s a long word. It’s biodegradable, compostable and produces zero toxic waste.

It is produced by microorganisms feeding on sugar, starches or greenhouse gases. I love this part: Microorganisms can actually turn greenhouse gases, such as waste methane and carbon dioxide, into biodegradable PHA plastics. Companies like Newlight Technologies are developing these kind of bioplastics.

Imagine a plastic-like material that is produced by greenhouse gas eating bacteria! Cove is currently testing how long it will take to break down the bottles in different scenarios. They are launching in California this year, so stay tuned!

Sign up for weekly inspiration right in your inbox

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.