How Avocado Seeds May Save Us From The Plastic Wave
One of the reasons why I usually take dinner’s leftovers as lunch to the office, is the fact I cannot stand the view of the supermarket’s 250 grams of packaged pre-cooked meal, wrapped in more plastic layers than you would see around the luggages on the airports’ conveyor belts. I can’t help it. The very idea of the environmental footprint of packaged food, despite its debatable taste, makes me lose my appetite.
Life in plastic…is not fantastic
Our society is, as a matter of fact, based on plastic. The predominance that plastic has in our daily lives is probably greater than what we may actually think, despite it is in front of everyone’s eyes. Plastic is literally everywhere, either directly present in the items we use or indirectly, as a necessary mean to produce those items. According to the Businees Data Platform Statista, global plastic production has skyrocketed from 1.5 million metric tons in 1950 to 359 billion metric tons in 2018, and it is expected to reach 34 billion metric tons by 2050.
We are already seeing the disastrous effects plastic is having on the environment and our health: from the plastic island, aka Great Pacific Garbage Patch, floating in the ocean, to the microplastics we daily ingest from fish products and also from vegetables and fruits, as it was recently discovered by researcher Margherita Ferrante and her group from the University of Catania.
I am always (negatively) astonished to see on the supermakets’ shelves piles of single-use plastic cutlery and dishes. It is a sight which I might have considered normal in the ’90s but definitely not in 2021, as we should be in an era of environmental and climate awareness, which cannot leave space to potential sources of plastic pollution. While it is true that recycling is certainly a viable way to at least reduce the amount of plastic ending up in animals’ bellies and in our own stomach too, why not replacing it with other materials when possible? This would also allow for a reduction in the carbon footprint required to produce plastic material as well as in the energy associated with the recycling process.
According to Carroll Muffett, head of the Center for International Environmental Law
“emissions from plastics production and incineration could account to 56 gigatons (56 billion tons) of carbon between now and 2050.” — Carroll Muffett
Considering that the U.S. industry solely is expecting to spend USD 46$ billion on new plastic production capacities in the upcoming decades, it is clear why the projections for 2050 leave little hope to a plastic-free future.
What’s the deal with the carbon footprint of plastics substitues?
One would assume that non-plastic material has a much lower carbon footprint than a plastic item. However, this might not be the case: the “not-so-carbon free” paper substitues have been pointed out also by Chemical engineer Beverly Sauer of Eastern Research Group. In a study which compared a different mix of several plastic packaging with subsitutes (made out of non-plastic material), her team found out that the carbon footprint of the entire life cycle of plastic packaging is lower than that of substitutes, including paper. This is why, according to Beverly Sauer
“The plastic packaging accomplishes its purpose with very little weight of material” — Beverly Sauer
meaning that if a paper bag weighs two times a plastic one does
“not only do you have to produce twice the weight of material, you have to transport twice the weight of material [and] you have twice the weight of material to manage at the end of its useful life.” — Beverly Sauer
This is when the avocado forks come in to play! I love avocados, but I have always seen their seeds solely as a way to potentially just have more avocados. This was a very short-sighted attitude of mine, which I happened to realize when I came across the existence of cutlery made out of avocado seeds. Now, the idea of crushing avocado seeds to make spoons is heartbreaking, if you are a “guacamolholic” like me, but since those seeds were going to be dumped anyway, let’s make the best out of them!
The company which came up with this innovative idea is the Mexican Biofase, which uses discarded avocado seeds from oil manufacturers. The company uses up to 130 tons of avocado seeds monthly and turns them into forks, knives, spoons and even straws, made up by a biodegradable biopolymer material named “avoplast” (they came up with the name “avoplast”, not me!).
According to Biofase, products made out of avoplast have an even lower carbon footprint than any other material (including paper!).
“The carbon footprint is much less than other plastics and bioplastics, including paper, largely due to a phenomenon called bonus of biogenic carbon, which explains that the Avocado tree, when growing, absorbs CO2 of the atmosphere to form its tissues. This phenomenon does not occur in the production of any plastic derived of the oil.” — Biofase
A paper, plastic or avoplastic straw?
Although from Sauer’s study it seems that the carbon footprint of plastic might be less than that of substitutes, this might not be the case with “avoplast”. Furthermore, the effects of mismanaged plastic disposal are an additional environmental issue to bear in mind. It is irrealistic thinking that plastic recycling is religiously carried out in the proper way by all of us, especially when it comes to items made up by several components, which should be separated before disposal. This is why biodegradability of not-recycled items is key. With regards to Biofase’s products, there seem to be two types of materials: one which biodegrades in 240 days and one which needs to be composted for it to break down completely.
Ultimately, let’s ipotize the worst case scenario from a final customer perspective: who do you think has the most impacting effect (accounting for both the carbon footprint and the environmental pollution) out of 3 people who use and do not recycle, respectively a paper, plastic and avoplastic straw?