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U of M researchers developing canola-based plastic replacement

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A University of Manitoba research team is working on a more environment-friendly plastic substitute, and they are using a product plentiful in Manitoba to do it.

Local researchers developing an alternative to petroleum-based plastics have found a way to turn canola into a biodegradable packaging material. The material comes from a part of the canola oil extraction process that is essentially waste, meaning it's cheap and readily available.  

"The whole idea is to take the canola industry by-products and make it into a starch where we can get them to make it into a packaging films, and ideally for single-use plastics," said Nandika Bandara, Canada research chair in food proteins and bio products.

The damaging effects of single-use plastics on the environment have become more widely publicized in recent years, leading the Canadian government to completely ban plastic bags, straws, cups, cutlery and other items last year. There are a few biodegradable plastic replacements on the market, but researchers say the quality is not very good.

"Other protein based packaging materials are not flexible," said Thilini Dissanayake. "They're very brittle, so if you fold like this they easily break. But in our case we get very flexible material."   

After a successful run of laboratory trials, the team is now working on creating a viable plastic bag substitute out of the canola-based product.

"There will be some technical challenges, especially in terms of how we can translate the same properties in that particular processing method," Bandara said.

If they are successful, she believes they will have created an environmentally sustainable product that many people have been waiting for.

Researchers said they'll need another year or two before they're ready to make canola material into a commercially viable product.

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