Researchers at the La Mayora Subtropical and Mediterranean Hortofruticulture Institute have developed bioplastics from tomato remains that have similar properties to commercial packaging plastics but that decompose in one month in the sea; a much shorter time than the 450 years it takes for petroleum-derived plastics to degrade.
The researchers extracted cellulose from the tomato leaves, stems, and skin that are discarded in the canning industry after making tomato sauce or ketchup. Researchers used these remains to create a robust and transparent film or plastic wrap that can have multiple applications, stated IHSM researcher, Jose Alejandro Heredia, who works with the cellulose obtained from these remains to create a material capable of being modified with antibacterial bioactive substances and antioxidants that have properties for food packaging and that, in addition, would degrade in a minimum time compared to plastic containers.
Sustainable smart plastics
These bioplastics can be hydrophobic, fluorescent, pearlescent, or have different colors and shades, depending on light exposure.
In addition, these bioplastics can also be used to make 'Smart packaging'. Once they are used to protect food, the plastic would lose its initial color when it absorbs water, starts losing its structure, begins to lose antioxidant properties, and ceases to be useful; thus acting as a kind of sensor.
In addition, these plastics can be used to coat the inside of a can. Heredia assured that this plastic is as good as the plastic made from oil derivatives, as it helps the metal resist corrosion very well and does not migrate to the food.
However, the researcher said, this new plastic won't be used by the sector for a long time because the plastics industry needs to be able to use the same machinery for this change to be economically viable, which would mean a revolution for the environment and food sustainability.