All the ways Cacti are Leading the Sustainability Movement
All the ways Cacti are Leading the Sustainability Movement

IMPACT - JULY 5 2019

Hi, Axol here! Living in Central Mexico, I’ve been exposed to a vast variety of plants that thrive in steppes and deserts. In 2018, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources reported that 669 out of 1,400 species of cacti are Mexican. That is nearly half of the world’s species!

cactus sustainability

Of the 669 endemic Mexican species, it is the Nopal (Opuntia cacti) Cactus, commonly referred to as prickly pear in English, that has gained prominence due to its abundance. The Nopal Cactus is a central asset to the environment’s biodiversity as it provides food and habitat for many organisms. During the colonial period, cacti were also an important player in the region’s agricultural economy.

The Nopal Cactus is a central asset to the environment’s biodiversity

The Nopal Cactus serves as a habitat for the scaly insect known as cochineal, which ranked next to Silver in terms of value for the European Market. Nopal Cactus has also grown to be a common ingredient in numerous Mexican dishes. In 2007, the Nopal Industry of Mexico was said to be worth 150 Million USD.

And the environmental and economic benefits of the Nopal Cactus don't stop there!

Innovations has been discovered to use Nopal Cactus juices and parts as raw material for sustainable alternative products. Here’s a roundup of three of the most fascinating Cactus innovations:


Universidad del Valle de Atemajac (UNIVA) Chemical Engineer Professor and Researcher Sandra Pascoe Ortiz has been working on a formula using Nopal cactus juice to form biodegradable plastics.

The idea started when her students submitted a plastic alternative base formula using prickly pear cactus in 2013. The students submitted it for a class project and abandoned it a few months after. Engr. Pascoe believed it was feasible and worked with her other students in the development of the formula.

Engr. Pascoe and her team’s research and development work led to a biodegradable-based plastic which is non-toxic and safe for ingestion by both animals and humans. It takes approximately a month for the Nopal Bioplastic to completely degrade. Currently, Nopal Bioplastics is still under development in collaboration with University of Guadalajara Center for Biological and Agricultural Sciences under National Council of Science and Technology’s (Conacyt) funding.


Dr. Norma Alcantar, a professor from the University of South Florida (USF), presented her research on the cleansing property of cacti at American Chemical Society’s (ACS) 251st National Meeting & Exposition. The process of purification involves the pulverization of a cactus’ mucilage, it’s sticky part, and then adding the powder to contaminated water which attracts contaminants such as sediments and bacteria.

The idea of using boiled cactus extracts for water purification is an old Latin practice she learned from her grandmother when she was a child. In 2006, she decided to put this practice into study for global use. At present, Dr. Alcantar and her team are studying the possibility of extracting mucilage from waste products and synthesizing the formula for commercia use.


Speaking of waste products, manure in Mexico is mixed with cacti puree to produce methane mixtures for vehicle fuel use. This sustainable alternative is invented by clean energy company Nopalimex. Since 2016, cacti biofuel has been available as a cheaper and cleaner alternative to diesel and traditional gasoline.

Napolimex is a green energy firm founded by farmer Rogelio Sosa López with his colleague Antonio Rodríguez. There is no doubt that biofuel is better than traditional fuel source, but what makes Cactus biofuel stand out from the rest is that it does not compete in the food chain and it thrives in non-traditional agricultural settings.

As a Mexican native myself, I sure am proud of all these innovations from my region. Thank you Mr. Cactus for all the benefits your family gives to our planet.

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