24 May, 2010
By ANDREA FILMER
GEORGE TOWN: Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) researchers have come up with a new invention that could change the face of plastic packaging - fruit waste-based biodegradable plastic bags.
But even more appealing than the natural colour and fragrance of the bags are the price, which the research team claimed cost 10% less than the current non-biodegradable plastic bags commercially used.
“One of the biggest environmental problems the world is facing is plastic waste.
“Most commercial plastic is made from petroleum which makes them difficult to break down and degrade,” said research team head Prof Dr Hanafi Ismail, adding that only 2% of non-degradable plastic bags were recycled as the process was expensive.
He said his team’s new invention called “FruitPlast” converted tropical fruit waste into flour which was then fabricated into biodegradable plastic film. “So far we have tried the skins of three fruits - rambutans, bananas and jackfruit.
“The plastic manufactured from these fruits stands up in both textile strength and ‘elongation at break’ level as compared with normal plastic wraps,” said Dr Hanafi, a lecturer from USM’s School of Materials and Mineral Resources Engineering.
He explained that as the process used low-cost technology, it was more cost effective than biodegradable plastic made from sugar cane or corn husks.
Exposed to the elements, FruitPlast plastic naturally degrades in three to six months while it can last one to two years on the shelve.
Dr Hanafi said the invention, a first in the country, was in the process of being patented and could be marketed within a year.
FruitPlast, the product of a RM900,000 research grant from USM and three years of study, also goes hand-in-hand with another of USM’s new inventions - Greenana Noodles.
The greenish noodles, a research project headed by School of Industrial Technology lecturer Assoc Prof Dr Noor Aziah Abdul Aziz, are made from the fruit of young, green pisang awak and provide the waste materials for FruitPlast.
“Noodles are most commonly made from wheat flour that is nutritionally imbalanced as it is mainly a source of carbohydrate.
“Unlike normal noodles, our Greenana Noodles are high in dietary fibres and resistant starch (RS) which helps prevent colon cancer,” Dr Noor Aziah said.
She added that the noodles, that taste no different from other noodles, were also suitable for diabetic and overweight people.
Greenana Noodles come in three forms (instant noodles, spaghetti and fresh noodles) and can last on the shelve as they contain antioxidants instead of added preservatives, she said.
-- The Star --