Biodegradable plastics from palm oil waste

palm oil
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A biodegradable film made from waste from the palm oil industry could be used for food packaging

Plastic pollution is a pressing environmental concern of the twenty-first century. So is the oil industry, which is linked to widespread deforestation and habitat destruction. Research published in Current Research in Green and Sustainable Chemistry may be able to put a dent in both issues, with a biodegradable plastic film made from palm oil production waste.

Non-biodegradable single-use plastics, such as and food wrappers, account for 40% of the plastic produced each year. "Hemicellulose is a naturally occurring biopolymer obtained from renewable materials such as polysaccharides and protein. It shows a huge potential for replacing non-biodegradable petroleum based polymers due to low cost and biodegradability," write the researchers, based at Universiti Sains Malaysia, in their paper.

In addition to plastic waste, 19.8 million tons of waste palm oil fruit bunches are discarded each year in Malaysia alone.To reduce the environmental impact of these forms of waste, the researchers have turned from waste palm oil fruit bunches into biodegradable for green packaging.

Hemicellulose is abundant in agricultural and biomass waste. It is a promising biopolymer for film manufacturing applications as it is flexible, and has low gas permeability and high water resistance. Hemicellulose is also known to be a major component of the fruit bunches that are discarded by the . After extracting hemicellulose from bunches, the researchers confirmed that: "[Palm oil fruit bunches] can be identified as a potential raw material with a huge yield in the production of green packaging."

Although it has many properties that make it a potential viable alternative to other biopolymers, some properties—such as its brittle nature—limit its possible applications. As such, the researchers decided to blend it with the non-toxic, commercially available biopolymer carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC). This is known to have positive effects on the , transparency, flexibility, and moisture absorption of other biopolymers.

The team blended different amounts of hemicellulose from the palm oil fruit rusks with CMC. This was then made into biopolymer films of varying thicknesses (all under a tenth of a millimeter). Extensive investigation into the physical and chemical characteristics of the films revealed that those containing 60% hemicellulose had optimal properties for making biodegradable packaging materials.

This new hemicellulose blended material can offer a cheap and abundant biodegradable polymer. It presents a promising alternative to polluting non-biodegradable plastics. Although producing biopolymers from palm industry does not prevent further industry-related deforestation, using this by-product adds to value to the crop, and as the authors note: "Consequently, environmental impacts can be minimized significantly." They also hope that incorporating additives to make the hemicellulose-based films electronically or photocatalytically active will increase their possible future applications.

More information: P.R.D. Weerasooriya et al. Exploring the properties of hemicellulose based carboxymethyl cellulose film as a potential green packaging, Current Research in Green and Sustainable Chemistry (2020). DOI: 10.1016/j.crgsc.2020.05.001

Provided by SciencePOD

Citation: Biodegradable plastics from palm oil waste (2020, November 10) retrieved 1 October 2023 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Explore further

Durian skin biocomposite for take-out containers and 3-D printing


Feedback to editors