Could Cucumber Peels Spell the End of Plastic Food Packaging? This IIT-Kharagpur Team Has a Plan


Could Cucumber Peels Spell the End of Plastic Food Packaging? This IIT-Kharagpur Team Has a Plan

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Eliminating plastic from your life as a consumer feels like fighting the Hydra. If you start carrying your own cloth bags while shopping, you’ll realise that the bottles you use are plastic. If you start only buying reusable glass bottles, you’ll notice that even the fresh groceries come in little plastic wrappers of their own. But now, an innovation by a team of researchers from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur, has developed an eco-friendly, biodegradable alternative to replace the single-use plastic currently used as food packaging material. Interestingly, this new material is developed by processing cucumber peels, using their cellulose nanocrystals.

The IIT research team was led by assistant professor Jayeeta Mitra and research scholar N Sai Prasanna. “This non-toxic, biodegradable, and biocompatible product has no adverse effects on health and environment and hence could have a huge market potential by rendering management of organic waste with high cellulose content profitable,” said Prasanna, in a report by Hindustan Times. The natural biopolymer developed by the IIT Kharagpur team is an innovation that could soon help many households move away from indiscriminate use of plastic to a more environmentally friendly option.

Mitra told reporters that since cucumber peels have a higher cellulose content than other vegetables and fruits, the nanocrystal yield would allow for the creation of a biodegradable packaging material. “In India, cucumber finds wide use in salads, pickles, cooked vegetables or (is even) consumed raw and also in the beverage industry, leading to a large volume of peel biowaste which is rich in cellulose content… We have used the celluloses, hemicellulose, pectin extracted from this processed material for deriving new bio-materials which are useful as nano-fillers in bio-composites,” she said.

So the next time you’re making a raita or a salad alone, do the responsible thing and separate your wet and dry waste! Those peels might make their way back to your kitchen before you realise.