India’s IIT Kharagpur develops eco-friendly packaging with cucumber peels

India’s IIT Kharagpur develops eco-friendly packaging with cucumber peels

The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, says it has developed an ingenious material for packaging, using something that is produced in tonnes in nations like India — cucumber peels.

The premier Indian technology school, which is known for its pioneering research in the field of various technologies, has managed to make eco-friendly packaging material that is bio-degradable, and have low oxygen permeability.

Harnessing the above-average cellulose content in cucumber peels, researchers from the IIT Kharagpur turned the waste peels into packaging materials that will not only save money but the planet as well.

“While single-use plastic is consciously being avoided by consumers, they still remain largely in circulation as food packaging items. Natural biopolymers are unable to make their way in this industry as they lack strength, elongation, barrier property, optical property, and in some cases even biological safety,” Jayeeta Mitra, Assistant Professor, IIT Kharagpur told news agency PTI.

This is not the first time researchers have put vegetable and fruit waste into ingenious use. Two Mexican entrepreneurs created a stunning leather using cactus called Desserto.

The cactus-based leather is said to have striking softness “while offering a great performance for a wide variety of applications and complying with the most rigorous quality and environmental standards.”

The newly created waves when it first came out as a promising candidate to replace the highly toxic, unethical, and polluting animal-based leather.

She said cucumber finds a wide variety of use in India, from salad filling to a highly preferred side-dish, and even raw; in India cucumber peels are widespread. The biowaste, she said is rich in cellulose content.

Cucumber is a widespread vegetable extensively consumed across India and is widely grown for its versatility and easy-to-grow nature of this amazingly watery and refreshing veggie.

The researchers in IIT Kharagpur extracted the hemicellulose, celluloses, and pectin from the 12% residual waste that is obtained after processing the peels or the whole content.

India’s IIT Kharagpur develops eco-friendly packaging with cucumber peels
Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

The residual waste is then processed to give shape to new bio-materials “which are useful as nano-fillers in bio-composites,” Mitra told news agency PTI.

Why researchers are pinning after a bio-material like this is because they tend to come at a much lower price, use much fewer resources to obtain (they come from bio-waste) and bypass the synthetic materials that are usually involved in making plastic-based packaging.

Mitra said, nano-cellulose materials like the one they have developed are strong, economic, and renewable — making them a promising candidate for materials need in the near future as the world gradually draws into a more desperate need of sustainability.

A research scholar at the institute, Sai Prasanna, said the cucumber peel-based packaging material is non-toxic, biodegradable and biocompatible and has no adverse effects on health and the planet.

Researchers are also hoping the material could be put to a wide range of uses like making coating additives, optically transparent film, hydrogels, paper, coating materials, and more.

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