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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs