News / Science & Technology

    Shrimp Shells Could Provide Biodegradable Plastic Alternative

    Cups and egg containers made of shrimp shell derived plastic are seen In this photo provided by the Wyss Institute.
    Cups and egg containers made of shrimp shell derived plastic are seen In this photo provided by the Wyss Institute.

    Related Articles

    Microbes Could Help Clean Up Oil Spills

    Microorganisms consume methane and other components in natural gas

    UN's Ban Urges Climate Action Ahead of New York Summit

    Secretary-general says he was hopeful that goal of limiting global temperature rises to maximum 2°C can be achieved

    Video Study: Climate Change Disrupting Americans' Lives

    2014 National Climate Assessment says effects of climate change 'expected to become increasingly disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond'
    A substance found in the shells crustaceans and parts of insects could provide the world with an abundant and environmentally friendly way to replace many plastics.

    It’s called chitosan, a resilient form of chitin, which researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering say is the “the second-most abundant organic material on Earth.”

    Chitin is a tough polysaccharide found in the shells of crustaceans.

    After Wyss announced its progress making chitosan-based materials in March, they were approached by a variety of companies and entrepreneurs eager to learn about it and explore possible commercial uses, said Javier Fernandez, a lead researcher on the project.

    One example, a simple drinking cup, could be made from about 200 grams of shrimp shells, about a handful, Fernandez said. 

    To put that in perspective, Fernandez said that one species of plankton-sized crustaceans, the copepod, is estimated to produce billions of tons of chitin each year.

    “That means that they have produced in the last 12 months roughly the same amount of chitin than the worldwide plastic production since 2009,” he said in an email.

    According to the Wyss Institute, humans manufacture about 34 million tons of plastic waste per year, recycling a mere seven percent. The remaining 93 percent ends up in landfills and oceans.

    Wyss said that plastic in landfills could take up to 1,000 years to degrade, and that there is an estimated 100 million tons of plastic swirling around in the world’s oceans.

    “There is an urgent need in many industries for sustainable materials that can be mass produced,” Wyss Director Donald E. Ingber said in a statement. “Our scalable manufacturing method shows that chitosan, which is readily available and inexpensive, can serve as a viable bioplastic that could potentially be used instead of conventional plastics for numerous industrial applications.”

    While there are several bioplastics on the market, they are commonly made of cellulose, a plant-based material. These, Wyss researchers say, have only been made into “simple containers for food or drinks.”

    So far, shaping cellulose into durable, complex 3D shapes that can be mass produced using  “traditional casting or injection molding manufacturing techniques” has remained elusive, researchers at Wyss said.

    While Harvard researchers have made cups and food containers from chitosan, they say it could also be used to make trash bags, grocery bags, packaging materials and diapers that are biodegradable and release nutrients for plants.

    Fernandez said shrimpers around the world, particularly in Vietnam, India and Honduras, are always looking for economically viable ways to discard shrimp cells.

    Chitosan-based material could make the waste another revenue source, said Fernandez, adding that would be an important step in mass producing chitosan.

    Currently, the majority of shrimp shells are discarded, used in fertilizers, or for cosmetics and dietary supplements.  

    Finally, those who suffer from shellfish allergies need not worry about food packed in a chitosan container, said Fernandez. The part of the shrimp that causes allergies is in the musculature, not the shell, he said.

    You May Like

    US Lawmakers Vow to Continue Immigrant Program for Afghan Interpreters

    Congressional inaction threatens funding for effort which began in 2008 and has allowed more than 20,000 interpreters, their family members to immigrate to US

    Brexit's Impact on Russia Stirs Concern

    Some analysts see Brexit aiding Putin's plans to destabilize European politics; others note that an economically unstable Europe is not in Moscow's interests

    US to Train Cambodian Government on Combating Cybercrime

    Concerns raised over drafting of law, as critics fear cybercrime regulations could be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle political dissent

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Leslie Harty from: North Carolina
    May 08, 2014 3:32 PM
    There has been a product made in the US using shrimp, clams, crabs, and other chitosan for several years called "Green Film Natural". It is not solely shrimp, but other crustaceans shells that are normally thrown away after processing.It has been used for cups, trays, films. It is currently being tested for a diaper backing at a major diaper company.

    by: Jaycey from: Zaporozhzhte, Ukraine
    May 08, 2014 9:43 AM
    Nothing very new here.

    I recall reading some years ago that Chitin from cockroach shells has been used for some HiFi loudspeaker diaphragms.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora