Great job for turning a cost outlay into a profit. I applaud the innovative initiative to take a previous waste product and turn it into a productive product and a new revenue stream (not to mention reducing waste to the environment).
I agree, Greg--good to see not just a great idea for using a natural resource to create a biodegradeable plastic but also showing the financial benefit to doing so, which often is how naysayers dismiss such initiatives. I love this idea, of course, especially as someone who consciously limits my use of single-use plastic because I know the truth about it--it can only be recycled once and ultimately ends up in landfills or in the ocean. And again, it's taking a country outside of the U.S. to lead the way on an environmental business move. Will definitely be keeping an eye on how this and similar ideas pan out.
Ann, thanks for posting this. Also, thanks for linking to a Spanish-language website. It's an unfortunate fact that English speakers often ignore anything in other languages -- as though anything important must necessarily be in English.
Tec de Monterrey is very well known for integrating engineering and business, so it's perhaps not surprising that this company was founded by Tec students.
By the way, the cheerful "¡Aguacates de México!" jingle -- which is familiar to anyone who listens to Spanish-language radio in the U.S. -- is now stuck in my head after reading this article.
Dave, glad you enjoyed the article. I adore avocados and would eat them everyday if they were in season locally in Northern California. That's one reason I was attracted to this story. Using Google Translate was a pain, but I'm good at figuring out bad translations into English, plus I absorbed a lot of Spanish when living in LA and hanging with my brother's in-laws from Mexico. I'm also familiar with Tec de Monterrey, so was not surprised that this innovation began there as a student project.
I second Dave's comments. Anytime we can take a waste product like this and convert it to a useful and economic product - we get one step closer to sustainable living. Our planet will thank us in the long run for efforts like these. Thanks for the article, Ann. It was a bright spot in my day.
TJ, the answer is kind of yes and no, depending on what part of the process you mean. It's the front end where things are really different, depending on what the feedstock is and whether it's starch-based or cellulose-based (or yet others). Once you've figured out how to convert it into ethanol you're home free. But that conversion is different for different feedstocks, depending on, among other things, the monomer, which is why Biofase wants to find other feedstock candidates with the same monomer so they can use their process on it. And the conversion can contain multiple steps--or not. There are lots of research efforts afoot to simplify that front-end process. If there's a holy grail, it might be there.
@TJ McDermott: Mexico produces about 1.3 million metric tons of avocados per year, so 30,000 metric tons per month of seeds (360,000 metric tons per year) being disposed of by industry seems reasonable.
Avocados are either sold whole (in which case the industry isn't responsible for disposing of the seeds), or else processed into other products (guacamole, avocado oil, etc.).
I'm going to guestimate that about 75% of the weight of an avocado is contained in the seed. That would mean that 1.3 million metric tons of avocados (i.e. the entire annual crop) yields 975,000 metric tons of seeds.
If industry has to dispose of 360,000 metric tons of seeds per year, that means that about 40% of the avocados are processed, and 60% are being sold as primary product (whole avocados). That makes sense to me.
1.3 million metric tons is about 4.3 billion avocados -- which sounds like a lot -- but if we assume that all Mexican avocados are consumed either in the U.S. or Mexico (combined population about 430 million), that's only 10 avocados per person per year (or 6, if you only don't count processed avocados).
Each member of my family eats at least one avocado per week, so we're definitely exceeding our quota.
All good questions, Clint. None of the Biofase-specific answers are immediately available on Biofase's website. I looked for such information--after using Google Translate, but this effort is quite new: the company was started early last year. I hope they publish a paper on the subject soon. Regarding compostability and recycling: most participants in the bioplastic industry say that recycling is the first "best use", and compostability comes second. Making a bioplastic compostable is usually aimed at food-service or other single-use items--as Biofase is doing--since the idea there is at least if the items are thrown in the trash (as they often are, as Elizabeth's comment points out), it's better to be compostable and/or be biodegradable in a landfill. We covered this here: http://www.designnews.com/author.
Thanks for the article. It would be a great cycle to see the bio-plastic from avocado pits made into biodegradable take out containers! With such a high volume of raw material, the price may be reasonable.
I forget that many parts of the country still use Styrofoam until I leave the Bay Area.
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