We’ve got a plastic problem. You know it. I know it. National Geographic sure as hell knows it. The website reports that a staggering 91% of the world’s plastic isn’t recycled. That’s why a crew of scientists have designed a set of biodegradable tableware made from sugarcane and bamboo. According to a release cited in Science Daily, the team’s new sugarcane and bamboo tableware takes just 60 days to break down. Traditional plastic or biodegradable polymers, by contrast, can take as long as 450 years to degrade.
Seeking an alternative for plastic-based food containers, the team turned to bamboo and one of the largest food-industry waste products: sugarcane pulp. They wove bamboo and sugarcane pulp fibers together to form a tight network that they used to create stable and biodegradable containers. And yes, these containers hold up to soups: The researchers added alkyl ketene dimer (AKD), which they described as a “widely used eco-friendly chemical,” to increase the product’s oil and water resistance. Basically, it makes sure sure the bowl doesn’t dissolve at the first sign of a bisque.
According to the release, the new tableware starts decomposing after being in the soil for 30-45 days. It then completely loses its shape after 60 days. According to the release, the team is now focused on lowering the product’s cost (currently $2,333 per ton) to compete with that of traditional plastic cups ($2,177 per ton). If the scientists succeed, this could be a huge step toward reducing landfill and ocean pollution—which means we can start dreaming about other uses for all that landfill space. I’d like to propose more dog parks.