Perennial Polycultures of Multipurpose Plants Plastic

part 4 of “Food from Trash: A story of how bioshelters will save the world”

Where are we going to get plastic film, a must for bioshelters and greenhouses, if we end global hydrocarbon apartheid?


The main ingredients being from renewable sources: water, vinegar, glycerin, starch

Currently bio-plastics are manufactured from vegetables like soy and corn. Both are annual vegetables grown industrially with the same fossil hydrocarbons we are trying to avoid.

Fortunately vinegar, glycerin, and starch can come from natural sources. Like from Perennial Polycultures of Multipurpose Plants of course!

This may need a little explaining…

I’m talking about plants that are:
Perennial = living more than one year
Multipurpose = grown because they have many qualities, uses or functions, in a
Polyculture = two or more species mutually supporting each other

How does growing plants in this way, also called edible forest gardening, make the bio-plastic that comes from them more ecological?

First of all perennials are planted once so they don’t require constant tillage, thus the soil ecology is forever intact. With the soil covered with mulch like a forest, water is conserved and doesn’t erode the landscape. Perennials, particularly woody perennials, sequester carbon in the soil and in their cells, helping to solve climate change. Whereas annual monocropping, through constant tillage, will burn up carbon all the time.

Being multi-purpose, the plants in this form of agriculture are planted because of their multiple qualities. A plant can fix nitrogen, be edible, and attract bees. Or it can be disease resistent, fruit in shade, and be medicinal.

When plants are grown in polyculture, they are planted around each other to fill the niche they function best in, at the same time having very little competition with their neighbors. The most famous annual vegetable polyculture example being, corn, beans and squash. The “Three Sisters” polyculture was invented by the Native North Americans and shows how three plants can actually yield more diverse nutritive calories when grown together, than if you grew only corn. Weeds, pests. and diseases are reduced as well.

Just for fun I can give two possible polyculture examples that have the ingredients needed to create bio-plastic:

Polyculture #1
Bush cloverLespedeza biocolor
A large shrub with seeds that can be pressed for oil to process into glycerin. It also happens to fix nitrogen, attract bees, has edible parts, and ornamental qualities.
JostaberryRibes x culverwellii
A medium shrub with fruit that can be fermented for vinegar. It is also pest resistent, vigorous and easy to propagate, and produces an edible fruit in partial shade.
Chinese yam vineDioscorea batatas
A medium herbacious vine with aerial tubers whose starch can be easily collected and processed. It is edible, can grow in partial shade, has wonderful cinnamon smelling flowers in the spring, with ornamental qualities.

Polyculture #2
Sunchokes to produce tubers for inulin (starch relative)
Grapes trellised to produce fruit vinegar
Buffalo gourd to produce an oil seed

We can even make our own bio-plastic in the kitchen:

“First get a pot, silicon spatula, a stove or hot plate, a tablespoon and teaspoon, water, vinegar, glycerin, and finally some starch. Before you start get either some aluminum foil or a silicone heat pad so you have something to spread your plastic on for it to dry.

Measure out 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, 4 tablespoons of cold water, 1 teaspoon of glycerin, and 1 teaspoon of vinegar, add everything to the pot. Turn the heat on to medium and begin stirring, keep heating and stirring until the mixture turns from cloudy white to clear, watch how the starch makes a transformation from liquid to a goopy like gel. This is called gelatinization. Now turn the heat up a little bit and keep stirring rapidly until it is completely clear.

Quickly pour your plastic onto the cooling sheet of your preference. Depending upon the humidity in the air it should dry in about a day. When it’s dry you can do whatever you want with it.”

I got this recipes from

I haven’t yet made my own plastic, and probably will not be able to make enough to stretch over our bioshelter tomorrow. But, someone with the right idea, and some financial means could start a new perennial agriculture enterprise using similar recipes to manufacture bio-plastic.

So there is the possibility of covering bioshelters with bio-plastics at some point in the future…

Until then, let’s summarize the current earth positive aspects of our bioshelter, it is:

… made of trash, so very few new resources were needed, creating less pollution.

… a human scaled solar building inspiring hundreds of people every year.

… an engine for ecological diversity where there wasn’t much before.

… producing delicious local food, at low cost, thru healthy organic methods.

…. a fun, relaxing, invigorating place to be anytime of the year.

… an enterprise that is providing income to two families.

I had fun writing this four part story. Contemplating how a bioshelter will save the world.

On it’s own, will a bioshelter really save the world? Probably not.

But, the human living inside just might.

2 thoughts on “Perennial Polycultures of Multipurpose Plants Plastic

  1. Pingback: Plastic Film | The Backyard Bioshelter Blog

  2. I’ve never been a fan of bio-plastics, partly for the reason you mention. The alternative you suggest is good, but a couple of major issue remain: how much land and how much resources does it take to grow these crops? How would all that resource usage compare to producing plastic of an equivalent amount?

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