Is cactus juice the answer to our plastic woes?

Sandra Pascoe Ortiz developed a creative solution to our plastic problems. She uses cactus juice and non-toxic formula to create a plastic-like material.

Plastic was always a hot topic in the «green» world, ever since it was first introduced in early 20th century.

There are mountains of research about its toxicity and environmental impact, as well as various manufacturing byproducts. Plastic pollutes groundwater, destroys wildlife, and piles up to cost untold billions in damages.

Not to mention that plastic water bottles are recognized as potential health risks by World Health Organization. Risks of plastic have been known for decades.

We know this has to change, but don’t know how to go about it.

This Mexican researcher came up with an answer.

Sandra Ortiz and her invention. Source – BBC news.

Sandra Pascoe Ortiz developed a creative solution to our plastic problems. She uses cactus juice and non-toxic formula to create a plastic-like material.

Her «plastic» is:

  • Produced entirely with renewable resources
  • 100% biodegradable (around 1 month in soil or a few days in water)
  • Flexible and easily moldable.  

The process currently takes about 10 days, but could be sped up with modern manufacturing. Even though it’s not yet positioned to compete with regular plastic, this research definitely has the potential to lead us into an eco-friendly future.

Why is this such a big deal?

Environmentally friendly (or at least neutral) plastics have been experimented with since the 1960s. So far our best solution is to introduce even more chemicals into the mix. Hardly as healthy as using cactus leaves.

But so far chemicals have been the only way to make plastic biodegradable. They make plastic break down into smaller pieces more rapidly, mitigating the damage somewhat.

Chemical solutions hardly made any progress addressing the toxicity and environmental impact of the manufacturing process as a whole.

Cacti are anything but toxic, and so are the byproducts of farming them. We get the best of both worlds, a way to make plastics with no harmful waste.

How soon is this «plastic» coming?

Sandra Ortiz is still researching various kinds of cacti to see which ones suit her process best. She’s proven the concept and is now focusing on refining this material and optimizing the formula.

Scaling the process from a lab to a full-fledged production isn’t on the agenda yet, but will be in the coming years.

The best part is that she doesn’t need entire cactus plants to produce juice, only the leaves. This means in the coming decades we can potentially substitute plastic factories with massive cacti farms.

Even though most cacti are fit for the process, some leaves work better than others

The challenge ahead

Despite our optimism, long-term prospects of this «plastic» remain uncertain. The time it takes to grow cacti and produce this material aren’t nearly at a pace where they can compete with industrial plastic.

Not to mention the scale at which we produce traditional plastic, as well as the amount of it that’s already polluting our ecosystem.

Projects like this require more public support, complete with actively introducing «green» initiatives into our supply chains.

Even though cactus-produced plastic is a drop in the ocean, scaling up sustainable solutions like this would definitely improve our «prickly» situation.

If nothing else, it’s an initiative to follow up on and see how it matures in a few years.

Sandra Ortiz works at UNIVA in Zapopan, Mexico. In June she was featured in the BBC «People Fixing the World» report by Tom Heyden. Check out this Forbes article by Scott Snowden if you want to find out more.

Leave a Comment