Mexican Company Converts Avocado Pits Into Biodegradable Plastic Straws and Cutlery

A new innovative company looks to end plastic pollution by using a waste product that was, until now, burned in landfills by the millions of pounds every year. What are we talking about? Well… what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Mexico? Guacamole of course (with tequila being a close second).

In recent years, countries around the world have begun banning various disposable plastic products like cutlery and straws and seeking out more environmentally sustainable choices like corn and hemp and now… a bright young man by the name of Scott Munguía has figured out how to convert avocado seeds to a biodegradable plastic!

The plastic pollution problem plaguing the environment is so overwhelming, it is hard to know where to start in putting an end to it. In a TED talk entitled, “A drop in a plastic ocean: how one person can make a difference” Emily De Sousa observed that each year over 8 million tons of plastic enters our oceans. Emily believes that “change starts with one person. It starts with one straw. It starts with one drop. You are not a drop in the ocean, you are the entire ocean in a drop.”1

A young chemical engineering student at Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico, Scott Munguía, began exploring what he could do—as one person—to solve the “plastics problem” posed by fossil-fuel based plastics (petro-based polymers) that can take up to 100 years to biodegrade.

Said Scott, “I grew up listening to pollution problems, and that’s why I knew my business had to focus on important problems, and one of those is plastic, so I was looking for a certain molecule similar to what is already used now to make biodegradable plastic but with other sources.” 2

Explaining that his moment of discovery was when he was reading a research paper and saw a picture of the corn molecule used to make bioplastic and realized that the avocado seed molecule was a perfect alternative, 3 “I tried to go looking for things that were waste, something that could be useful and I found the avocado.”2

According to  Mexico News Daily, Scott worked for a year and a half to develop a method to transform molecular compounds from an avocado pit into a biopolymer that could be molded into useful shapes for product development.

In 2013 he patented the process and founded BioFace, opening a manufacturing plant two years later in Morelia, Michoacán that produces the raw materials for eco-friendly plastics. In 2016, Scott opened another plant that makes plastic cutlery and straws. 4

Avocados couldn’t have been a more perfect choice. Mexico produces half of the world’s supply of avocados. In addition to exporting whole fruit, there are processing plants within the country that process raw avocado fruit to make it restaurant-ready for dining establishments in the United States. As NowScience put it, “Avocado seeds pile up in Mexico like nowhere else in the world, and most end up being burned at landfill sites.” 3 BioFace happily keeps 15 tons of avocado seeds out of landfills each day for use in their manufacturing plants.

For consumers, this means more choices when we want to avoid traditional petro-plastics. Many current alternatives are made from corn and are produced in China. Scott shares his thoughts on this, saying, that bioplastics must be sustainable and not utilize potential food sources in a world where so many people go hungry.  “A bioplastic has to be sustainable… but you do not have to take away the food from people, it’s as if we made our clothes of tortillas or rice, less if you are trying to solve an environmental problem.” 2

BioFace’s avocado-based straws and cutlery biodegrade after 240 days of being exposed to the elements or being buried in the ground. 5 Many other “compostable” products only live up to their label when broken down by commercial/municipal composting facilities (requiring controlled humidity, aeration, and temperature), 6 but they are not able to biodegrade in a person’s home composter.

Forbes columnist, Elizabeth MacBride, was a judge at the Student Global Entrepreneur Awards in 2014 where Munguía won the second runner up in the Washington, DC competition when he presented his start-up work with BioFase. Reflecting on the competitors, MacBride said, “Older entrepreneurs have higher success rates, but I wondered, watching the ambition of the students’ ideas… if younger people start more of the world-changing companies? You can’t fear the obstacles that you don’t even know about.” 7

Scott Munguía is an inspiring example of one person who fearlessly charged headlong into the challenges of addressing plastic pollution. We are betting that the truly biodegradable bioplastic invented by Scott will prove to be one of those world-changing companies started by that one person—that one drop—that becomes an ocean of change to stop plastic pollution that is so devastating to marine life.

References

1DeSousa E. A drop in a plastic ocean: how one person can make a difference. TEDx Talks. 3 April 2018.

2Nares P. This Mexican company invented ‘avocado’ straws. El Financiero. 13 June 2018.

3Ecott K. Mexican company converts avocado pits into completely biodegradable plastic. NowScience. 3 January 2019.

4Mexico News Daily. An alternative to plastic straws: this product is made from avocado pitsMexico News Daily. 15 June 2018.

5Barrett A. Bioplastics straws made from avocado. Bioplastics News. 17 June 2018.

6BioPak. Frequently Asked Questions. Composting. 2019.

7MacBride E. Avocado seeds into plastic: a Mexican chemical engineer aims at $5.8B Market. Forbes. 30 April 2015.

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