Uganda scientists invent bioplastics for wrapping nursery seedlings from farm wastes

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Agricultural scientists from Uganda have invented biodegradable plastics for use in wrapping nursery seedlings made from farm wastes in a bid to face off non-biodegradable plastics that seedlings nursery operators have been using and which causes environmental degradation. 

The new invention was revealed by scientists from the National Agricultural Crop Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) in Wakiso District last month while releasing their research findings about the use of agricultural waste to develop biodegradable plastics. 

According to Dr. Ephraim Nuwamanya, the head of the biochemistry unit at NaCRRI, the invention is in collaboration with the University of Bangor, UK, with funding worth £80,000 (about Shs369m) from the UK government running for 10 months. 

“There is an extensive need to produce biodegradable plastics that have the ability to decompose in a short period of time hence saving the environment,” said Nuwamanya  adding that nursery seed operators are using millions of tonnes of plastics which they later dump in farmlands, leading to soil degradation. 

The production of the biodegradable plastics, he says, can be achieved using agricultural waste such as banana and cassava peels, maize waste, wheat straw and rice straw, among others. 

Statistics by the country’s National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) indicates that Uganda produces about 1.4 million tonnes per year of agricultural waste from 6.5 million vegetable processing and other crops residues. 

It is because of this that NaCRRI scientists came up with the concept of processing biodegradable plastics, specifically for wrapping seedlings in nursery beds. 

Biodegradable plastics making process 

While developing the product, the team collects agricultural waste from plants, including cassava, maize, bananas and sorghum, among others, from farmer fields. 

The materials are then left to dry and crushed into powder form before being mixed with water and sodium chloride. The solution is then heated, thereby producing a paste. 

The paste is then passed through a machine called thinner to make a paper-like lining. It is then put in an oven to dry. 

This is later put in a silk gel and dried once again in order to come up with a bioplastic product. 

The production was performed at Bangor University in the UK, who have the required machinery for processing the product. 

They processed 90 metres of the biodegradable plastic sheets, which were then shipped to Uganda. 

Advantages of the bioplastics 

According to the scientists, biodegradable plastics form organic matter, which once planted with seedlings in the soil, degrades after six months, thereby adding nutrients to the soil. 

Once mass production kicks off in the country, the project will be an income-earning initiative to farmers because the waste material will be purchased from farmers. 

And now, Nuwamanya and team intend to formalise intellectual property issues with Uganda Bureau of Standards in order to roll out the technology with a call on private sector to come on board for commercialization purposes. 

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