Sustainable Future: The New Plastic

Life in plastic can be fantastic now that Sandra Pascoe Oritz has created a material that could possibly replace regular plastic and help fight the growing climate conditions.

Nopal cactus leaves. genericavatar. CC by-NC 2.0.

Nopal cactus leaves. genericavatar. CC by-NC 2.0.

Sandra Pascoe Ortiz, a Mexican researcher, has created a “plastic” dupe from cacti. Oritz states, “My idea is to produce a plastic from natural ingredients and substitute it for some of the plastics we use today”. Her invention will not only aid the fight against the growing climate crisis, but provide a more efficient way of mass producing cheaper products that will not affect our future in the long-run. The material Ortiz created takes one month to biodegrade in soil and a few days to biodegrade in water. That ensures that the product will quickly be erased, allowing for no buildup or junk yards to pollute the Earth.

Also, the material she created is so natural that it is edible. “All the materials we use can be ingested both by humans or animals and they wouldn’t cause harm.” This means that when the product does biodegrade, it should not affect the surrounding ecosystem, instead contributing to it. 

But what is her process? First, she cuts the leaves off the cactus - the big round part that we associate with the general look of the cactus. Then, she peels the leaves, shaving off the outside spikey layer. Next, she presses the shaved cacti into juice placing the juice into the fridge. After some time, she takes the juice out of the fridge, mixes the non-toxic formula into the juice and after the concoctions are mixed, she laminates the mixture, letting it dry. 

Oritz is currently testing many different ways the new material can be used. “We can obtain different colours, shapes, thicknesses; we can make plastics that are very smooth or very flexible and we can make others that are more rigid.” The material is malleable enough that it can possibly replace most of the functions that plastic is used for. 

Currently, as Ortiz does everything by hand, the process of creating the new “plastic” takes up to 10 days. Ortiz believes that upgrading the process into an industrial factor, the process can be sped up. 

The best part about the whole process? The substance is made up entirely of renewable resources. “The nopal cactus is a plant endemic in Mexico”. To continue the process, the plant must stay alive to create more leaves, ensuring overcropping will not be the result. Although the material is still in development, it shines a light for a hopeful future filled with less plastic and a more sustainable future. 

OLIVIA HAMMOND is an undergraduate at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She studies Creative Writing, with minors in Sociology/Anthropology and Marketing. She has travelled to seven different countries, most recently studying abroad this past summer in the Netherlands. She has a passion for words, traveling, and learning in any form.