The versatile plant

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(HOST) Commentator Charlie Nardozzi reflects on new high-tech uses for some common plants.

(NARDOZZI) There was a time when gardening was just about growing plants for food and beauty. However, with the advent of newer technologies, scientists are finding more ways to use plants to create a sustainable environment. Plants are showing up in the oddest places. Such as, would you believe, your car?

Toyota Corporation is developing a new plastic product made from sweet potatoes to be used in building their cars. These “bioplastics”, as they are called, are biodegradable; their production doesn’t contribute to global warming since it doesn’t increase the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. And their manufacturing process is more environmentally friendly than that for conventional plastics.

Toyota has been growing sweet potatoes in Indonesia and using the starch from these tubers to create this new generation of plastics. Presently, only floor mats and wheel covers on some car models are made from bioplastics, but Toyota plans to expand their production and use these materials in all aspects of their cars. Toyota also is looking at producing hydrogen fuel from sweet potatoes to power their cars. Oh, by the way, don’t try to eat your floor mats if you get a little hungry on a road trip. The new plastic, though biodegradable, is not edible.

Making products from biodegradable materials isn’t necessarily new, but one manufacturer in England is taking this “green technology” to new heights. It appears the latest recycling challenge involves the bevy of discarded electronic equipment being tossed into local landfills. One of the biggest culprits is cell phones. As people change phone plans and upgrade the quality and style of their cell phones, more and more of these phones are ending up being discarded.

In looking for a more environmentally friendly way to dispose of cell phones, researchers at the University of Warwick in England devised, not only a phone exterior made from biodegradable plastic, but one that grows flowers as well. The researchers created a cell phone cover made from a polymer that will decompose in soil. What’s more, they also imbedded a flower seed in the case, so, once the case breaks down, the seed can germinate and grow. After investigating various flowers, they found that a dwarf sunflower performed the best.

As an added feature, the sunflower seed is visible through a transparent window in the case, reminding the user of the “environmentally-friendly” decision they made in purchasing the phone. The sunflower won’t germinate until the cell phone is “planted”. Imagine getting friends together to ceremonially bury your cell phones, and then returning to see sunflowers growing weeks later!

This is Charlie Nardozzi in Shelburne.

Charlie Nardozzi is an all-around gardening expert with a special fondness for tomatoes and roses.

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