Normally we associate tomatoes with sauces, ketchup, pizza, ragout and so on, the applicable uses of tomato in gastronomy are almost infinite. Others however are beginning to see other applicable uses for tomatoes such as Bioplastics, or biodegradable plastics.

recycling pictogram The road to a sustainable agriculture is beginning to engage chemistry at as new agricultural practices  are being implemented. With the term “green chemistry” or “sustainable chemistry” we are beginning to embark on a new era for alternative sustainable technologies. Within a few decades it is  predicted that all plastics derived from petroleum will be replaced by bioplastics with zero impact on the environment. Bioplastic is in fact   100% biodegradable and dissolves naturally during a time period of a few days to up to 4 or 5 years compared to 1000 years that it takes to biodegrade synthetic plastics.

 In Italy researchers at Ictp.Cnr Naples have been working for some time with other institutes on the extraction of polysaccharide originating from the processing of tomatoes by obtaining biodegradable material.
Tomato is very important in the food processing industry worldwide and  one of the main problem with the processing of tomato is the elimination of residual waste which is usually found in the skin and seeds of the fruit which adds to production costs.

 The potential application of  bioplastics have been experimented with the realization of bio material for food packaging.  Another interesting application is a biodegradable, biocompatible and non toxic material to be used for mulch which is  used in agriculture to conserve moisture in certain areas of soil and to avoid the growth of weed. Around 700 thousand tonnes of mulch plastic is used every year worldwide. Usually once used they  are usually  discarded or burned as they is difficult to recycle;  in many cases they end up in the soil by compromising its fertility.

The advantage of this new bioplastic is that it can be sprayed on the soil and it does not need to be removed as it is made up of organic material. The solution becomes solid once it is sprayed on the soil and it can be removed without damaging the environment. Other applications can be found in “tray plant” or “nursery boxes”. These are usually  planted in the winter and are removed from the plastic boxes sometimes causing stress to the plant during transplantation. In the case of biodegradable boxes  the plant  can be buried directly in the new location with the biodegradable box.

  “Green chemistry” in Italy has acquired a certain prominence in recent years and is bringing attention also abroad as the agro food industry plays an important role in the industry. Much of the plastic produced today derives from fossil fuels  which contributes to the greenhouse effect and takes years to biodegrade causing many problems to the environment. Half a kilo of corn and a kilo of sunflower oil is enough to produce around a hundred (non polluting) plastic bags. 

 Bioplastic will  certainly make a contribution to reduce environmental waste and promote sustainable growth especially confronted to an ever increasing world population and food demand. In the future it is possible that green plastic will replace not just shopping bags but most of our commonly used objects such as shoes, bags, toys etc.  Bioplastic technology has gathered momentum in more recent years also because of the oil crisis and the chemical industry is reconverting to green technology as a new alternative. Reducing the environmental impact by finding biodegradable material is a thing of the present and the road to the future.