By Ellaine Kryss Hubilla

Agricultural waste is one of the problems that the agricultural industry faces today. Tons of waste produced as a result of agricultural activities are being discarded, contributing a large amount of junk to the environment, regardless if disposed of properly or not.is one of the problems that the agricultural industry faces today. Tons of waste produced as a result of agricultural activities are being discarded, contributing a large amount of junk to the environment, regardless if disposed of properly or not.

Due to this concern, many individuals and business establishments are trying to create upcycled products from various agricultural wastes. Recently, a specialty paper was produced from discarded pineapple leaves.

PH produces specialty paper made from discarded pineapple leaves

The Raw Materials Development Program of the Materials Research team is an annual project conducted by the Design Center of the Philippines, where the research team will conduct studies on various indigenous or agricultural raw materials which can be developed into a high-value materials.

Products made using pinyapel sheets.

Discarded pineapple leaves were chosen as the raw materials to be converted into a specialty paper for the year 2018. The product was named Pinyapel, from the combined words of “pinya” and “papel,” which translates to English as pineapple and paper, respectively.

The members of the Materials Research Development team are senior researcher Rolyn Lomocso, junior researcher Cindy Maldecir, and Officer-in-Charge for Design Innovation Mary Josephine Cruz.

The Design Center of the Philippines is one of the agencies attached to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). It specializes in strengthening and developing design forms that can lessen environmental destruction through maximizing natural processes.

According to the Food and Fertilizer Technology Center, the Philippines is known as the second-largest pineapple producer globally. In 2017 alone, the country’s pineapple production figured about 2.617 million Metric Ton (MT), with five percent from the total production were agricultural wastes like pineapple leaves.

Why pineapples?

According to Lomocso, “The Philippines is one of the world’s top pineapple producers. As such, there is a continuous source of commercial volume of raw materials. Pineapple fields are usually cleared after the first sprout spring from the base of the crop. A portion of the cleared material is allowed to decompose to fertilize the soil,” she explained, adding that however, “Most of the time, it is burned for faster clearing; contributing to the greenhouse gases causing climate change.”

The production of Pinyapel encourages the harvesting of the discarded pineapple leaves to be used as raw material. It also provides additional income for farmers.

Pineapple is known for its impressive health benefits, it is loaded with nutrients like protein, fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, iron, and many more. But the benefits don’t stop there. Pineapple leaves, which are usually discarded, is believed to be effective in treating flu and nosebleeds when boiled in water and the resulting liquid drunk as tea.

More than the health benefits that pineapples can offer, its leaves contain lignocellulosic fiber property which makes it suitable to be processed as paper. The cellulose found in pineapple leaves is the most important component of paper because of its tensile strength, suppleness, and flexibility.

Lomosco also added that aside from pineapple leaves, there are other agricultural wastes that can be utilized as paper such as rice straw, bagasse, corn stalk, and tobacco wastes. While abaca, banana, kenaf, and bamboo are also suitable, their availability matters depending on time because these are annual plants and have only one growing season.

Pineapple leaves to pineapple sheets

The process of converting pineapple leaves into paper sheets involves a lot of procedures— not easy, but feasible. Maldecir explained that the process starts by collecting discarded pineapple leaves, which are sun dried. When the leaves are dry enough, they will be cut into about an inch to even the sizes. After cutting, it will be “cooked” for about two to three hours through pulping. This is a process that extracts cellulose from raw materials like pineapple leaves, which will free the fibers and eliminate impurities that can cause discoloration.

Processing pinyapel sheets to produce other products.

Lomocso shared the succeeding steps which are “beating the pulp and mixing reinforcing solution to improve the resulting paper, molding into sheets, pressing the sheets to remove excess water using screw press and then drying,” she also added that pressing the sheets with heat press after drying will produce smoother paper surface.

Other necessary materials used in the process are pineapple pulp, which is the main component for Pinyapel production. A pulping agent is also added to dissolve most of the lignin and to separate the cellulose into pulp, while the sizing agent provides the water-resistance property of pineapple sheets that prevents the paper from blurring with water or ink.

Although the sheets can only tolerate a small amount of liquid, according to the Technical Association of Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI), it is still suitable enough to use for writing, but not as a liquid container. This is because of the Pinyapel’s relatively low liquid absorptiveness.

After the sizing agent, a water-based binder is also added to hold the pulp together to form a cohesive whole, and reinforcing agent is also added to improve the tensile index and water absorptiveness.

As of now the team, together with their partner companies, were able to develop various types of materials from Pinyapel sheets like corrugated sheets, paper cup sleeves, and gift bags.

Partners in advocating sustainability

Companies involved include Nature’s Fresh Pineapple Inc., which supplies the pineapple leaves; the Cagayan de Oro (CDO) Handmade Paper Crafts, who is responsible for processing pineapple leaves into pineapple sheets; and Ideatechs Packaging Corp., who is responsible for converting Pinyapel sheets into paper packaging.

Lomocso, together with Maldecir, explained that the research team had a hard time finding a supplier because pineapple farms in Luzon cannot meet the amount of supply needed to be able to process Pinyapel.

Luckily, Nature’s Fresh Pineapple Inc., a pineapple exporter company from Bukidnon, initiates the experimentation of pineapple leaves due to the abundant amount of resources from their farm. They also agreed to be the supplier of pineapple leaves for paper production.

Maldecir shared that even before the Pinyapel project started, the company was consistently promoting sustainability by sharing tips on how to use discarded pineapple leaves as fertilizers and feeds. The common goal between the Design Center and Nature’s Fresh Pineapple Inc. was one of the reasons for the establishment of their partnership.

The pineapple plantation is located at Malaybalay City, Bukidnon. Its land area is around 300 to 400 hectares dedicated to pineapple production. The Northern Mindanao area is the top pineapple-producing region. This region alone is responsible for an average of 61% annual crop production in the country.

The team is positive that if Pinyapel finds its way to be available in the market for commercial purpose, farmers will receive a significant amount of additional income for harvesting discarded pineapple leaves. In addition, laborers from the partner companies will also benefit from the production.

Availability of ‘Pinyapel’ in the market may improve the lives of Filipino farmers

Through Pinyapel, farmers from Nature’s Fresh Pineapple Inc. were given an opportunity to increase their profits by harvesting and drying pineapple leaves. Lomocso shared that, “For every cycle of drying, collecting, and bagging five tons of pineapple leaves adds an approximately P1,753 to the weekly income of every seven pineapple laborers,” she also added that “using pineapple leaves as a component in paper, increases labor opportunities for people like them.”

A farmer from Nature’s Fresh Pineapple Inc. carrying his harvested pineapple leaves.

Pinyapel is available upon request, retailing at P125 per 70×100 centimeters sheet, with a minimum order of 500 pieces of sheets. The orders will be processed by the CDO Handmade Paper Crafts.

Although the price is too high for commercial purposes, the challenge now is to make Pinyapel available to the public as an alternative source of paper. This is where the development of a business plan for investments will happen. The Design Center is planning to build a facility for Pinyapel sheets production that must be located near the source of raw materials.

Vision for the future

Officer-in-Charge Mary Josephine Cruz shared the Design Center’s quadruple bottom line approach to circular design which revolves around four P’s.

People. There will always be people who the organization wants to benefit from every project that they establish. In this case, the focus is on the Filipino farmers as the project aims to improve the livelihood of these people.

Planet. The Pinyapel project of the Design Center was an outcome of their action to address environmental concerns on dwindling natural resources by offering alternatives that are sustainable and eco-friendly.

Prosperity. The project aims for the Filipino farmers to prosper—not only them but also their partner companies which helped them succeed in producing these alternatives. Prosperity is not limited to people alone because this project also helps the environment to prosper.

Purpose. The Design Center of the Philippines wants to show the world what the creative and design mind can do. As innovations, researches, and developments are the parameters of competency of a country in the global arena.
Today, the Design Center’s Materials Research team is continuously working on the further development of the Pinyapel. They are searching for collaborators and partners who are as committed as they are in producing alternative sources that will help the planet and the people to prosper in hopes of achieving a unified purpose.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s April 2020 issue.