Plastic Culture - Master Graduation project 2018

We harvesting latex based vegetables, in order to produce food and natural Bio-polymers from the same plant. Aiming for a green, organic, non-toxic, oil-free and gluten-free revolution.

Bioplastic is posed as a sustainable alternative to petrol based plastics, and will be produced in exponentially increasing quantities in the coming years. Rice, potatoes, corn, and cassava are considered the most efficient and resilient for the manufacture of PLA in particular. Yet turning food into inedible material is problematic from environmental, economic, and ethical perspectives. As the world's population grows, its survival will rely on a corresponding growth in agricultural land. The problem is even more absurd considering that PLA is used to make disposable products...
"we are wasting food to produce objects designed to be wasted".
This project proposes a different method: to grow edible plants that also contain latex, thus harvesting both raw bioplastic and food, without wasting life-sustaining carbohydrates. The research explored the ideal plants for this system, such as Dandelion and Chicory and Salsify, which are both highly nutritious and contain a high amount of latex. the Dutch Salsify was also discovered to be a source of EVA, a non-toxic, antibacterial and potentially biodegradable thermoplastic that could replace elastic, flexible, and spongy plastics made of synthetic polymers.
The project lays out the design for a large-scale, automated vertical farm owned collectively by local citizens, returning agency over the allocation of agricultural land and its financial profits to the people affected by its larger consequences. By realising an alternative to private capitalism, the vertical farm will not only produce bioplastic and food more cheaply, but  also find a constructive context for industrialisation, automation, and technological advancement.

Text Curated by Tamar Shafrir

The picture are from the recent exhibition at Framelab with Frame magazine. Where Plastic Culture had the possibility to made two food demostration in collaboration with Cucina Italiana Eindhoven and the Chef Giovanni Zorzolo we prepared Piadina (flatbread) and the pasta in the form of Tagliatelle. For both dishes we used only the flour extracted from Salsify* and as a sauce we’ll use ground leaves in order to obtain Pesto. In this case nothing is wasted, everything is reused in my ideal bioplastic production, creating a "circular food" in a circular economy system.

* Working with Scorzonera starch was unique and challanging because nobody before has ever extracted the flour from the "forgotten vegetable". Although in Europe it has been a food consumed for centuries!

Scorzoner Hispanica (Black Salsify in English and Schorseneren in Dutch) it’s known as “the forgotten vegetable” because it has been outclassed by the mass production of monocultures such as corn, rice, soy, and wheat. Only recently with the diffusion of vegan and vegetarian culture, these plants are back in vogue; Holland being the world’s largest producer. Indeed, it is well documented that the Netherlands has a strong and rooted gastronomic tradition with Schorseneren, as it is reported in one of the most famous and ancient books of traditional Dutch cuisine, De verstandige kock and the De hoofsch pasteybacker (Amsterdam 1669). Salsify is referred to in old songs and in folk mottos that describe the plant as keukenmeidenverdriet, and huisvrouwenleed (“housewife pain”) or as armeluisasperge (“the poor-man asparagus”). These names refer to the high concentration of latex that stick to your hands and glue your fingers. Therefore, cleaning this vegetable was “painful” and annoying. In addition, it dyes your hands dark-brown for days because of the combination of high levels of iron, latex and sandy soil residuals. Having “brown hands” was a symbol of poverty and highlighted the low social conditions. Probably this is one of the reasons why this plant has been forgotten over time.

It is well documented that during the Second World War the Scorzonera Tau-Saghyz, which is a variant of the common Salsify, was used by the Soviet Union as an urgent replacement of the traditional source of latex from Southeast Asia. The reason for this was that the Japanese army had occupied the territories housing 90% of the global rubber trees. The anti-Nazi allied forces of the Soviet Union and the U.S. countered the Japanese imposed embargo by producing latex from local plants like the Scorzonera T.S. cultivated in the cold region of Uzbekistan and Guayule harvested in the arid expanses of Arizona. This was successful since one Hectare yielded up to 1,5 tons of latex every 4 months.
Latex extracted from "alternative plants" was used as natural rubber for the production of military vehicle tires, and for the soles of shoes and military jackets.
The small module of the vertical farm was created in collaboration with the mechanical engineer Antoine de Bock and Diogo Rinaldi, the photos are made by Nicole Marnati and the video by Vincent Van Dijck.

We built a square meter module where the plants were supervised by robots who took care of them and could be controlled remotely. The purpose of this model is to show how in the future the vertical farm can be managed through smartphone applications by any user who can rent a part of the vertical farm to produce their own bioplastic, but also to grow locally other kinds of vegetables.

Vertical “plastic farm” in an urban area: The vertical farming will revolutionize the agricultural world, and therefore we will have the possibility to create autonomous and independent machines, remotely controlled by artificial intelligence. In addition to following the various stages of plant growth, the latter will reduce both energy, water consumption, and human labour [...] The structure will have to be financed by the participation of the citizens and the local government, in this way, the citizens-prosumers, (producers, and consumers) will avoid to nourishing the capital/logisticsystem which in itself is around 84% of the cost of every vegetable produced.

Currently, I’m researching and developing Plastic Culture in collaboration with the Botanical garden and the Biology Department of Utrecht University, I’m followed by the master program Bio Inspired Innovation, that are already involve in mycelium plastics researches. I will grow Schorseneren in a greenhouse of the botanical garden of Utrecht University and will extract and analyse the latex in the laboratories of the Department of Biology. A team of bachelor and master students will help me to develop the material and discover possible future uses and the possible applications. I have ambitious plans. The first is to optimize the plant growth in order to extract as much latex as possible. I will grow the plants at different temperature, light intensity and spectrum, soil and humidity, to make the growth process as efficient as possible. I will monitor the plants constantly through electronic surveillance equipment. In addition, I will build equipment for extraction, refining and treatment of latex. Finally, I would like to patent the material, publish the results in a peer reviewed scientific publication, and involve public bodies and political institutions and elementary and high schools, to raise awareness on the sensitive issue of plastics. I will organize thematic workshops and dinners serving Salsify plates directly inside the greenhouse. I thus will create circular economy system, within a greenhouse. Together with Giovanni I have already produced various gastronomic products such as pasta, bread, and pizza.

In eating the left-over food produced by latex-based plants, the user will experiment and embody the production of plastic, both physically and psychologically. Because it is proportionally connected to a direct and responsible action and therefore to the consequent implications of this choice (ex: 100g of pasta is around 30g of material). So, the consumers will have an active role on the bioplastic production and be connected with the project itself that could be even “crowdfunded” by the sale of derivative products. This could be an intelligent solution to reduce the cost of bioplastics, and therefore make it more competitive and a viable alternative with the cheapest plastics in circulation.

︎ Food and plastic equivalences

My goal is also to open a restaurant in the” area 30” of the greenhouse. Will be a “concept” restaurant because I will organise every Friday at 18:00 the dinner where the Salsify and many other plants that produce latex, will be “recycled” inside the greenhouse itself. That is place where I’ll “harvest the bioplastic” and I’ll base my scientific research. The plate where the food is served
will be made with the Bioplastic produced from Salsify, Dandelion, Chicory, Radicchio etc...

And follow some mathematics 1 disposable plastic plate is around 9,6 grams of bioplastics, that correspond of 32 roots that is 3.2 kg of food and dry weight 640g of flour = 4 meal and 2 days of food.

Imagine what can be the impact of my research in third world countries! How many people Plastic Culture can feed? if every “bioplastic objects” is 2 days of food for one person or 1 days for 2 person!

1kg of bioplastic: that is the equivalent of 397 disposable drinking cup, 104 disposable plate. It will produce: 62 kg of flour = 124 loaves of bread, 310 portions of pasta, 496 Veggie Burger etc..

Furthermore from these vegetable you can make many products: Flour, Pasta, Pizza, Bread, Biscuit, Chips, salad, coffee, Puree, Polenta, Tea, Wine (from the flower), medicines, Sauces (Pesto) etc... And they are Vegan and gluten free!

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