With all of the plastic alternatives now available, people are used to hearing about ‘corn’ and other materials, but what is cassava plastic, how does it differ and what are the negatives and positives of using cassava-based plastic?
In 2018, a company in Indonesia created an ‘edible’ plastic bag made from a vegetable root called cassava. This is a completely natural compostable plastic bag that can return to natural matter when disposed of in a worm farm, home composter or industrial composter. It’s popularity is growing based on its durability and non-toxicity.
What Is Cassava And What Is It Used For?
Cassava is a staple of many diets in countries such as Asia, Latin America and Africa as a vegetable root easily grown with many uses for eating as well as now manufacturing. Cassava contains large amounts of starch, making it a perfect bioplastic.
Cassava is known as ‘nutty’ flavored, starchy and provides a great source of carbohydrates and calories for those who eat it. It contains more Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Vitamin B2 and folate than potatoes. It’s also extremely versatile and easy to cook or bake with.
This means that there is great opportunity for cassava to be the main raw material to manufacture bioplastics/eco-friendly plastics. It’s also an easy, sustainable option as the root vegetable is easily grown, maintained and harvested.
Cassava is also turned into medicine and flour as it’s similar to a potato. The flour is used for tapioca, bread or crackers. The vegetable can be eaten much as a potato. Certain cultures also use it for ailments such as tiredness, dehydration or inducing labour. There are no scientific evidence to support medicinal uses.
Cassava plastic is said to be so safe that humans could eat it AND it dissolves in the water so its safe for marine life!
Where Is The Cassava Grown?
Cassava is grown all around the world, with Nigeria being the largest producer of the vegetable, followed by the Congo and Thailand. There were 7 countries who produced more than 30 billion pounds of cassava in 2019 and 24 countries who produced over five billion pounds that same year.
Countries currently producing high amounts of cassava include:
- Cote d’lvoire
- Sierra Leone
- Lao People’s DR.
Cassava is also grown in countries such as Australia, South America and small parts of the United States. However, the US is the world’s largest consumer of cassava products and has been since 1894.
How Is Cassava Biodegradable Plastic Made?
Cassava is produced in a similar way to other bioplastics when turning into plastic items. The plastic is derived from the starch found in cassava, much the same as tapioca or corn-based bioplastics.
Essentially the basic process which can differ dependent on country and manufacturing facility is:
- Gather materials – cassava starch, glycerin, vinegar, water
- Extraction and testing of starch
- Preparation of bio-film (mixture of the materials heated under mild heat until sticky)
- Moulding of bioplastic
- Pellets created using twin screw extruder machine
- Pellets heated and converted into shapes
- Pellets converted to bags.
Under this process, a ‘blown film extrusion process’ is utilized with these small plastic pellets. To make bags, the process includes:
- Resin (pellets) melted under controlled temperature and pressure
- Air injected into the plastic which extrudes through a die in circular form to create a tube
- Tube is cut off while hot, stretched and inflated
- Inflated bioplastic is cooled and made into rolls to convert to bags
- Bioplastic tubing fed to a machine that rolls out the tube to the right length and heat sealed.
Is Cassava Compostable Or Biodegradable?
Cassava bags are compostable as they are made from completely natural materials. Compostable plastic is any bioplastic made from completely natural components. This makes it perfect for composting in a home composter, industrial composter or worm farm as it will break down completely and deliver nutrient-rich soil.
It’s non-toxic however, if disposed of in landfill, won’t break down rapidly at all. In order to take full advantage of compostable plastic, you must dispose of it correctly. This will then take the decomposing process from the decades or centuries that it takes traditional plastic to disappear, to weeks or months.
Compostable plastic is also called a ‘next-generation’ plastic. The materials used to manufacture compostable plastics vary, but include renewable materials such as corn, soy protein, potato, tapioca starches, lactic acid and cellulose. These materials mean that compostable plastics are non-toxic and can decompose quickly when composted.
You can read more about compostable plastics here.
What Are The Benefits of Cassava Plastic?
Obviously the biggest benefit of any compostable plastic is its ability to completely break down into natural components, rapidly speeding up the decomposition process to as little as 90 days in some cases. However, cassava is also extremely strong and durable, as well as non-toxic AND it’s sustainable to farm when proper protocols are followed.
Benefits of cassava bioplastic include:
- Reduces contributions to landfill.
- Does not leach or leave behind toxic chemicals.
- Less greenhouse gas emissions during manufacturing.
- Lower water and energy consumption during manufacturing.
- Safe for humans, animals, wildlife and the environment.
- Durable and strong – can hold heavier items for longer.
- Easy to find and farm.
- Provide great fertilizer when composted correctly.
Read more about composting in this article.
What Are The Disadvantages Of Cassava Plastic?
Whilst cassava is easy to grow and farm, there are some downsides if proper farming protocols aren’t followed. Cassava farming can have severe environmental impacts if not carefully managed.
Some of these negative impacts include:
- Habitat destruction
- Soil degradation.
If managed correctly though, cassava is non-toxic to the surrounding environment and can dissolve in water so is safe for marine life and wildlife. It’s also not as strong as petroleum plastic BUT it comes pretty close according to tests!
Why Use Plastic Alternatives?
Being manufactured from raw materials means that PLA and other compostable materials can be composted either in a home composter or industrial composting facility and returned to its natural form. The manufacturing process is overall more sustainable and environmentally friendly than that of traditional plastics as no toxic fumes are released and it uses less electricity and water.
When disposed of correctly, all three options – compostable, PLA and biodegradable – can take centuries off the time it takes traditional plastic to break down. However, biodegradable plastics can leave behind toxic chemicals when decomposing and compostable plastics do not.
On the other hand, if you don’t dispose of compostable plastic correctly and drop it in landfill, it will take a long time to decompose like traditional plastic. There are biodegradable plastics that, unlike, compostable, are able to decompose quickly in landfill environments.
Read more about compostable plastic alternatives in this article.
Is It Safe To Use Compostable Plastic?
Yes! Compostable plastic is completely safe for your family, wildlife and the environment. It’s also safe for food storage.Using compostable storage bags, trash bags, dog poop bags, food and drink containers or serving items are great ways for people to become more environmentally friendly.
With the makeup of compostable plastic being completely organic materials, this makes them completely non-toxic and safe across the board as well as great for the environment when disposed of correctly.
It should be noted that compostable plastic is not always as strong as traditional plastic so can tear or break with too much liquid or weight inside.
With all the plastic alternatives out there – enter bioplastics – cassava has now entered the arena as a great option that’s durable, sustainable (when managed correctly) and reduces your environmental footprint.
As a staple of many diets in countries such as Africa, Asia and Latin America, cassava is easy to farm and find! It dissolves in water, is non-toxic, breaks down completely in a composter or worm farm and is so safe that humans could eat it!
Plastic pollution is a huge problem and it’s great to see alternative solutions being found across the globe to try and address this issue. Just by reading this article you are starting on the journey toward being more eco-conscious.
Compostable plastic is a great alternative to traditional plastic and is completely safe for the environment, wildlife and people. It will break down completely into natural matter when disposed of correctly.
Compostable plastic is growing in its popularity, due to its zero impact on the environment and its ability to replace many traditional plastic items, but is still not available to replace all plastic items. Compostable is classed as a bioplastic due to its makeup from completely natural components. This makes it perfect for composting in a home composter, industrial composter or worm farm as it will break down completely and deliver nutrient-rich soil.
If you don’t dispose of it correctly, you will contribute to the landfill issue and the plastic won’t break down completely. This is an important thing to consider when switching to bioplastics.