Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez isn’t the only Latina fighting for a greener planet. Over in Mexico, Sandra Pascoe created a biodegradable, natural plastic that can make our shopping experiences a lot more eco-friendly. The key: The juice of the nopal cactus.
“The plastic is basically made out of the sugars of nopal juice, the monosaccharides and polysaccharides it contains,” Pascoe, a researcher at the University of the Valley of Atemajac, told EFE.
So far, the Guadalajara, Jalisco-based scientist has used the most popular type of edible nopal, the opuntia ficus-indica and the opuntia megacantha. According to her, the sugars, pectin and organic acids in the juice give it a thick, gummy consistency. This is then mixed with with Glycerol, natural waxes, proteins and colorants, which is dried on a hot plate to produce thin sheets of plastic.
Currently, the plastic can be used to make greener alternatives to shopping bags, cosmetic containers, accessories and toys. However, she is currently studying how much weight the plastic can hold to determine other possible uses for it. She also teamed up with the University of Guadalajara Center for Biological and Agricultural Sciences to test how quickly and in which cases the plastic will decompose.
“We’ve done very simple degradation tests in the laboratory; for example, we’ve put it in water and we’ve seen that it does break down [but] we still have to do a chemical test to see if it really did completely disintegrate. We’ve also done tests in moist compost-like soil and the material also breaks down,” Pascoe said.
In 2014, the process was registered with the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI), where Pascoe is now seeking a patent. When the innovation is patented, her process could be commercialized, offering companies a greener alternative to plastic.