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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

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.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid