UGANDA – Agricultural scientists in Uganda have invented biodegradable plastics from agricultural waste for wrapping nursery seedlings.

The move aims to eliminate the use of non-biodegradable plastics by nursery bed operators in various parts of the country, which environmentalists say causes environmental degradation.

The 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 scientists, biodegradable plastics form organic matter, which once planted with seedlings in the soil, will degrade 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 for farmers because the waste material will be purchased from farmers.

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.

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

They processed 90 meters of the biodegradable plastic sheets, then shipped them to Uganda.

To test the feasibility of the new wrappers, the scientists have teamed up with Mount Elgon Tree Growing Enterprise in eastern Uganda, to set up trial sites to raise tree seedlings wrapped in biodegradable plastics.

The director of Mount Elgon Tree Growers Enterprise, Mr. George Sikoyo, explained that his team has set up four trial sites within the outskirts of Mbale City where they have tree seedling nurseries.

Instead of potting the tree seedlings in plastic bags, they have used biodegradable plastics. Currently, they treat the materials with insecticides to deal with their threats.

Some of the trials are on raised tables in order to avoid insect penetration. The sites act as demonstration sites where farmers growing vegetables and tree seedlings come to learn. Many of them have appreciated the technology.

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