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

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Video US Landmark Pushes Endangered Species

People gathered in streets, on rooftops in Manhattan to see image highlights that covered 33 floors of Empire State Building More

World’s Widest Suspension Bridge Being Built Over Bosphorus

Once built, Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge will span 2 kilometers with about 1.5 kilometers over water, and will be longest suspension bridge in world carrying rail system 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.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs