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.


Why Stores and Restaurants are Ditching Plastic Straws

Single-use plastics like straws can harm the environment. Photo by Marco Verch C.C. 2.0.

Single-use plastics like straws can harm the environment. Photo by Marco Verch C.C. 2.0.

You may have noticed that the beverages you’ve been ordering at your favorite coffee shop or restaurant have not been accompanied by plastic straws. Chains as big as Starbucks and establishments as small as neighborhood cafes have been finding creative substitutes to plastic straws, or are just getting rid of them altogether. 

What’s so bad about straws? 

Straws are just one example of wasteful single-use plastic. Hundreds of millions of tons of plastic are produced each year, and a large portion of that plastic ends up in the ocean. It seems like plastic straws is an interesting place to start in the crusade against single-use plastics. However, for an able-bodied person, avoiding plastic straws is an easy way to start reducing plastic use. 

How are things changing? 

Some restaurants have tried to be more conscious about their straw usage by not automatically putting a plastic straw into each beverage. Some establishments will wait for their customers to ask for a straw instead of serving it to them. 

Other establishments—like Starbucks—have developed a new plastic lid that looks like a sippy-cup so that customers can sip their drinks without needing a straw. However, cups like these are difficult for those who aren’t able to pick up their drinks and bring them to their mouths. A straw is literally the only way for some people to drink on their own. 

Therefore, better solutions may be composter-approved paper straws, like Aardvark straws, or reusable glass or metal straws. 

While finding alternatives to plastic straws can make a substantial impact, it should just be the beginning of a global campaign to reduce single use plastics. Hopefully, there will be future campaigns to reduce plastic bottles, plastic cutlery, or single-use containers. 

ELIANA DOFT loves to write, travel, and volunteer. She is especially excited by opportunities to combine these three passions through writing about social action travel experiences. She is an avid reader, a licensed scuba diver, and a self-proclaimed cold brew connoisseur. 


Turning Plastic Trash Into Cash in Haiti

What would our world look like without plastic? From life-saving medical devices to computers to Tupperware, it’s changed the way we live, work and understand the world around us. But the same wonder material that has revolutionized so much is choking our oceans. It’s estimated that, every minute, an entire garbage truck worth of plastic hits our oceans. Otherwise put, 8 million tons of once-useful items find their way to global waters each year. There, over time, they break into tiny pieces called “microplastics,” which end up consumed by marine life. 

For David Katz, fighting plastic pollution should start long before a soda bottle hits the tide. What’s more, he believes the very plastic waste that litters our shores and seas is anything but waste. In 2014, David launched the Plastic Bank, “a global network of micro-recycling markets that empower the poor to transcend poverty by cleaning the environment,” according to its website. The organization currently operates in Haiti, the Philippines, Indonesia and Brazil, and works like this: community members collect plastic waste (much of it post-consumer products like milk containers, detergent bottles and plastic bags) and bring it to Plastic Bank centers where it’s weighed and exchanged for cash. In Haiti, for example, more than 2,000 collectors have recovered around 7-million pounds of plastic since the organization arrived in 2015. 

What was once considered waste can now be sold to major brands like Marks and Spencer and Henkle, who will use it to package and distribute their products in a more sustainable manner. As David Katz puts it, this “social plastic” is “empowering and precious”—something that bonds collectors in places like the Philippines and Haiti to brands and consumers around the world.

Fighting Plastic Pollution on Easter Island’s Shores

When Francis Picco traveled to Easter Island for vacation in 1989, he fell in love—both with the woman who would become his wife and with the breathtaking landscape. Over time, he began to notice a troubling addition to the rocky shores: plastic waste, most of it from commercial fishing vessels. Determined to give back to the island that has given him so much, Picco spends hours each week picking up refuse by hand.