A team of specialists at Queen's University Belfast is pioneering a technique to use banana plantation waste from the Canary Islands in the manufacture of rotational molded plastic products.
The process of incorporating treated banana plant fibers in plastic molding is expected not only to reduce substantially the amount of polyethylene required, but also create jobs and benefit the environment, according to the university.
Its Polymer Processing Research Center, which has developed significant expertise in rotomolding, is playing a key role in the European Union-funded, 1 million-euro ($1.45 million) Banana Project. The study also involves companies in Spain, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Eastern Europe.
Around 20 percent of all bananas consumed in Europe are produced in Spain's Canary Islands, with 10 million banana plants grown annually in the island of Gran Canaria alone. When the fruit is harvested, the remains of the plant go to waste. An estimated 55 million pounds of the natural plant fiber is dumped in ravines around the islands each year.
The plastics study was born after one of the Canaries' biggest banana plantation cooperatives approached a local university asking if something constructive could be done with the industry's waste products.
Queen's was asked to participate in the study because of the Northern Ireland school's rotomolding expertise and close links with Spanish universities including those of Zaragoza and Las Palmas.
The project aims to make use of the plant material to improve a range of rotomolded products from wheelie bins and oil tanks to plastic dolls, traffic cones and boats.
Banana plant fibers will be processed, treated and added to a mix of plastic material, and sandwiched between two thin layers of pure plastic providing excellent structural properties. The project gives a whole new meaning to banana sandwich, said Mark Kearns, rotomolding manager at PPRC.
He said he is confident the project's success will usher in a new and more sustainable era in the production of rotational molded products. It also will benefit the plantations financially from the sale of waste from millions of banana plants that would otherwise go to waste.
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