Banana plants could be used in the production of plastic products with a new technique being developed by researchers at Queen's University Belfast.
The Polymer Processing Research Centre at Queen's is taking part in a €1m (£921,943) study known as the ‘Badana project’ to develop procedures for incorporating by-products from banana plantations into the production of rotationally moulded plastics.
It is hoped the new technique will not only offer environmental benefits but also increase the profitability for plantation owners in the Canary Islands where the bananas are grown.
Mark Kearns, rotational moulding manager at the Polymer Processing Research Centre in Queen's School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, said: ‘Almost 20 per cent of the bananas consumed in Europe are produced in the Canary Islands, with around 10 million banana plants grown annually in Gran Canaria alone.
‘Once the fruit has been harvested, the rest of the banana plant goes to waste. An estimated 25,000 tonnes of this natural fibre is dumped in ravines around the Canaries every year.
‘The Badana project aims to find a use for these plants. The natural fibres contained within them may be used in the production of rotationally moulded plastics, which are used to make everyday items such as oil tanks, wheelie bins, water tanks, traffic cones, plastic dolls and many types of boats.'
Kearns said the banana-plant fibres 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.
He added: ‘The project gives a whole new meaning to banana sandwich. This new technique will have substantial environmental benefits. It will hopefully result in a substantial reduction in the amount of polyethylene used in the rotational moulding process, ushering in a new and more sustainable era in the production of rotationally moulded plastics.’
Kearns said his group also hopes the research and development of this new approach will help create jobs and benefit the banana plantations financially from the sale of the remains of millions of harvested banana plants, which would otherwise go to waste.
The funding for the Badana project has been provided by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme.