Banana plants an a-peeling alternative for packaging

Biodegradable ‘plastic’ bags made out of banana plants sounds a bit…bananas, but a couple of UNSW researchers have found a way to do it, and it could solve two industrial waste problems in one.

Two researchers at UNSW Sydney have discovered a novel way to turn banana plantation waste into packaging material that is not only biodegradable, but also recyclable.

Associate Professor Jayashree Arcot and Professor Martina Stenzel were looking for ways to convert agricultural waste into something that could value add to the industry it came from while potentially solving problems for another.

A good contender was the banana growing industry which, according to A/Prof Arcot, produces large amounts of organic waste, with only 12% of the plant being used (the fruit) while the rest is discarded after harvest.

READ MORE: Packaging initiatives designed to reduce waste

“What makes the banana growing business particularly wasteful compared to other fruit crops is the fact that the plant dies after each harvest,” said A/Prof Arcot, UNSW School of Chemical Engineering.

“We were particularly interested in the pseudostems – basically the layered, fleshy trunk of the plant which is cut down after each harvest and mostly discarded on the field. Some of it is used for textiles, some as compost, but other than that, it’s a huge waste.”

A/Prof Arcot and Prof Stenzel (UNSW School of Chemistry) wondered whether the pseudostems would be valuable sources of cellulose – an important structural component of plant cell walls – that could be used in packaging, paper products, textiles and even medical applications such as wound healing and drug delivery.

Using a reliable supply of pseudostem material from banana plants grown at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, the duo set to work in extracting cellulose to test its suitability as a packaging alternative.

“The pseudostem is 90 per cent water, so the solid material ends up reducing down to about 10%,” A/Prof Arcot said. “We bring the pseudostem into the lab and chop it into pieces, dry it at very low temperatures in a drying oven, and then mill it into a very fine powder.”

Prof Stenzel continued:

“We then take this powder and wash it with a very soft chemical treatment. This isolates what we call nano-cellulose which is a material of high value with a whole range of applications. One of those applications that interested us greatly was packaging, particularly single-use food packaging where so much ends up in landfill.”

When processed, the material has a consistency similar to baking paper.

A/Prof Arcot said depending on the intended thickness, the material could be used in a number of different formats in food packaging.“There are some options at this point, we could make a shopping bag, for example,” she said.

“Or depending on how we pour the material and how thick we make it, we could make the trays that you see for meat and fruit. Except of course, instead of being foam, it is a material that is completely non-toxic, biodegradable and recyclable.”

A/Prof Arcot said she and Prof Stenzel have confirmed in tests that the material breaks down organically after putting ‘films’ of the cellulose material in soil for six months. The results showed that the sheets of cellulose were well on the way to disintegrating in the soil samples.

“The material is also recyclable. One of our PhD students proved that we can recycle this for three times without any change in properties,” Professor Arcot said.

Tests with food have proved that it poses no contamination risks.

“We tested the material with food samples to see whether there was any leaching into the cells,” Professor Stenzel said. “We didn’t see any of that. I also tested it on mammalian cells, cancer cells, T-cells and it’s all non-toxic to them. So if the T-cells are happy – because they’re usually sensitive to anything that’s toxic – then it’s very benign.”

Other uses of agricultural waste that the duo have looked at are in the cotton industry and rice growing industry – they have extracted cellulose from both waste cotton gathered from cotton gins and rice paddy husks.

“In theory you can get nano-cellulose from every plant, it’s just that some plants are better than others in that they have higher cellulose content,” Prof Stenzel said.

“What makes bananas so attractive in addition to the quality of the cellulose content is the fact that they are an annual plant,” A/Prof Arcot added.

The researchers say that for the banana pseudostem to be a realistic alternative to plastic bags and food packaging, it would make sense for the banana industry to start the processing of the pseudostems into powder which they could then sell to packaging suppliers.

“If the banana industry can come on board, and they say to their farmers or growers that there’s a lot of value in using those pseudostems to make into a powder which you could then sell, that’s a much better option for them as well as for us,” Prof Arcot said.

And at the other end of the supply chain, if packaging manufacturers updated their machines to be able to fabricate the nano-cellulose film into bags and other food packaging materials, then banana pseudostems stand a real chance of making food packaging much more sustainable.

“What we’re really wanting at this stage is an industry partner who can look into how this could be upscaled and how cheap we can make it,” Prof Stenzel said.

A/Prof Arcot agreed. “I think the packaging companies would be more willing to have a go at this material, if they knew the material was available readily.”

Qld Govt backs banana growers but threat remains

The Queensland state government has backed Queensland’s banana industry with an almost $12.1 million boost over five years to the fight against Panama TR4 disease.

Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries, Mark Furner, said a recent independent review of the Panama TR4 Program confirmed the importance of tackling the disease in partnership with industry.

“The review stated that the program should continue but must be based on shared responsibility between government and industry,” Furner said. “For almost four years, we have been very successful in containing the disease to just three adjoining farms. A major factor in that success has been the joint approach taken by government, industry, growers, and other key stakeholders.

“Biosecurity Queensland is establishing a working group with the Australian Banana Growers’ Council to progress the development of a first-of-its-kind partnership agreement to fund, deliver, design and govern the Panama TR4 Program in Queensland.”

Furner said the agreement will give industry an opportunity to shape its future.

“By having a seat at the table, industry can share the decisions on how Panama TR4 is contained and controlled in Far North Queensland,” he said.

Barnana

Product Name: Barnana

Product Manufacturer: BARNANA

Launch date: January 2016

Ingredients: Barnana Original: 5 bananas – 80% water per 100g packet

Barnana Coconut: 4 bananas – 80% water + 1/4 coconut per 100g packet

Barnana Chocolate: 3 bananas – 80% water + 54% cacao per 100g packet

Barnana Peanut Butter: 3 bananas – 80% + 4 tablespoons of peanut butter per 100g packet

Shelf Life: 18 months

Packaging: Resealable stand up pouch

Brand Website: https://www.barnana.com

Describe the product: Barnana, the super potassium snack, was created to overcome the issue of bananas browning quickly and being squashed. The product is crafted from chewy organic bananas that have been dehydrated for consumers to enjoy. The dehydration means that the naturally occurring sugars caramelise and condense.

This bite-sized product is organic, gluten and dairy free and non-GMO. Barnana has no refined sugar, preservatives or cholesterol. The delicious flavours in the range currently include Original, Coconut, Chocolate and Peanut Butter.
 

Australia finds new Barnana super potassium snack appealing

Bananas are Australia’s number one selling supermarket product, with over five million bananas consumed every day in the country.

Barnana, the super potassium snack, was created to solve the problem of a short lifespan of regular bananas. Crafted from chewy organic bananas that have been dehydrated, Barnana ensures that naturally occurring sugars caramelise and condense for consumers to enjoy.

With no refined sugar, preservatives or cholesterol and 18 months of shelf life, the range of flavours currently include Original, Coconut, Chocolate and Peanut Butter.

According to Marketing Director of Pacific SMM, Pam Wilson, Barnana ensures there is zero waste farming by sustainably upcycling these bananas, resulting in additional income for organic banana farmers.

“We are so excited to be launching Barnana across Australia. Not only is each flavour tasty, but it is a healthy snack and suitable for all ages. The Original and Coconut flavours are very healthy and for those who enjoy treats that are a healthier alternative to sweets, the Chocolate and Peanut Butter varieties are perfect for them. Following Barnana’s success in North and South America, we know that it will also be well received here in Australia,” Wilson said.

Cherry on top: summer fruits are also good for the brain

Summer fruits are back on Australian tables. We’ve long known cherries and other stone fruits provide a range of essential vitamins and minerals. But here’s another reason to make sure they’re on the shopping list: they’re good for the brain.

Flavonoids

Flavonoids are nutrients that contain more than 6,000 unique compounds. They’re widespread in plants, and are grouped into five subclasses: flavonols, flavan-3-ols, flavones, flavonones and anthocyanins.

The major sources of flavonoids in the diets of older Australians are black tea (89%), oranges and orange juice (2.7%), green tea (1.3%) and bananas (0.9%).

Flavonoids protect plants from microbe and insect damage, which may explain some of their observed health benefits in humans. They contribute to the sensory characteristics of foods such as flavour, astringency and colour.

Anthocyanins, for example, provide the red, blue and purple pigments in fruits such as strawberries, cherries, blueberries and plums. They’re also found in red wine, tea, coffee, and some vegetables such as red onion and cabbage.

How do berries improve brain health?

Anthocyanin-rich fruits have been shown to affect the brain in several ways. It is thought that a number of pathways work together to improve cognition and prevent degeneration of the brain.

First, the high antioxidant content of these fruits may scavenge free-radicals and reduce inflammation in the brain.

Additionally, flavonoids in the fruit have the potential to inhibit cell death of nerve cells (neurons), and improve connections between the neurons, especially in the areas of the brain associated with learning and memory (hippocampus).

Flavonoids may also disrupt the aggregation of amyloid beta (Aβ) in the brain and thereby prevent formation of amyloid plaques. Amyloid plaques are sticky buildups of these proteins which accumulate outside neurons, and are implicated in Alzheimer’s disease development.

Consuming a large serve of anthocyanin-rich fruits may boost learning ability, memory and motor skills.

Research suggests that people who regularly consume berries (two to three times per week) have better brain function and are less likely to develop dementia than others their own age.

Diet and dementia

Dementia is the single greatest cause of disability in older adults aged over 65 years and is the second leading cause of death in this age group. Even small delays in the onset of dementia and its subsequent progression will have the potential to significantly alleviate the burden of this disease on society.

Our research team has shown the potential for anthocyanin-rich cherry juice to improve memory in older adults with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s type dementia. A feasible serving of 200ml a day of juice was provided to participants in order to overcome the issue of seasonality.

After 12 weeks, people who regularly consumed the cherry juice had significantly improved scores of tests related to memory and word-recall compared to those who were provided with an alternative fruit juice that contained minimal anthocyanins.

The purple fruit frontier

As more is discovered about the health effects of anthocyanin-rich fruits, the demand for fruits with superior health benefits is growing. An Australian-bred plum developed by Queensland government scientists, the Queen Garnet, has up to five times the levels of anthocyanins present than in normal plums.

Animal studies show impressive results so far for its potential to improve health. Obese rats fed with the Queen Garnet plum juice showed that their high blood pressure, fatty livers, poor heart function and arthritis returned to normal in just eight weeks.

We are now investigating the role of the Queen Garnet plums on cognitive function in people with early signs of memory loss.

How can you be sure it’s the fruit?

Food-based studies are complex. First, we need to understand how the body metabolises the bioactive compounds.

Anthocyanins are quickly broken down in the digestive tract to a range of different digestive substances (called metabolites), many of which are excreted in the urine within about six hours. It may be the intact anthocyanin compound itself that exerts physiological effects. Or it could be one of its many metabolites.

The “dose” of anthocyanin required for health benefits, and how this can be achieved from foods remains unclear. An acute cross-over study, for instance, found the blood pressure lowering effects of cherry juice over six hours were only seen if 300ml was consumed as a single serving, rather than as three 100ml servings over three hours.

Lastly, it is likely that anthocyanins in food may interact with other nutrients, and combinations of foods may show synergistic effects. In other words, they may have a greater combined effect than if consumed in isolation.

While the role of diet for improving cognitive health looks bright (purple), a bowl of cherries won’t counteract other lifestyle factors implicated in cognitive decline. Quitting smoking, cutting down on saturated fat and being physically active are also crucial for keeping ageing brains healthy.

The Conversation

Karen Charlton, Associate Professor, School of Medicine, University of Wollongong and Katherine Kent, Nutritionist and PhD candidate, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.