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Shrimp Is The New Plastic

A solution to the world’s plastic overload may have been found in a shrimp. Or actually, in the shrimp’s composition.

flickr.com/photos/78559452@N08

Image source: flickr.com/photos/78559452@N08

A research team from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University are on to something huge. They have developed an interesting procedure for making bioplastic that is completely biodegradable and could someday replace commercial plastics that are not sustainable.

The process uses a substance called chitin, which is an abundant natural source that can be collected from certain shelled organisms. Examples of the organic material can be seen in the protective coverings on shrimp and other crustaceous creatures. Chitosan is a derivative of chitin and is what helps to create the exterior casing found on shrimp shells.

Though discovery of the substance is nothing new, what is innovative is the researchers’ ability to develop it into a range of objects of different shapes and sizes, as well as in a sturdy 3-dimensional form.

Shrimp Is The New Plastic

Image source: wyss.harvard.edu

Their study, published in Macromolecular Materials and Engineering, examined how altering the molecular structure and mechanical organization of the chitosan material could be used to produce a useable plastic. Their findings prompt the consideration of using chitin on a wider scale, including for commercial use and numerous manufacturing possibilities.

Bioplastics are not without fault and have been criticized for limitations and for some not being totally compostable. This particular application could be used for the production of an endless range of items, including everyday objects. The process for using chitosan also has many benefits, as it is a widely available material that is also cost effective.

Further, it not only completely breaks down in approximately a 2 week time frame, but it also produces plant friendly nutrients while doing so.

Considering the devastating issue of marine debris, this research is a welcomed endeavor.

A proactive effort called the HERMIONE project worked to understand just how wide reaching the problem of ocean litter truly is. One related research study included surveys from investigations of 32 different sites from ocean floors in the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.

Trash was found in various levels at all of the examined locations. The most polluted sites were found to have over 20 pieces of litter for every hectare, or around every 2.5 acres. Plastic was among the most reoccurring pollutant that was found in the waters.

Shrimp Is The New Plastic

Image source: plosone.org

This study is another reminder that looking to natural structures for solutions pays off, and science is always exciting when it leads to productive, real world applications.

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