There’s no doubt that plastics are a big problem. They are durable, resisting even the most degradative of processes, which causes things like plastic bags, exfoliating beads, and other items to accumulate in delicate environments like the ocean. Thankfully, science may have an solution to the problem. According to a recent story on everyone’s favorite science blog, I F*cking Love Science, scientists at the Harvard Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have a bioplastic product that is made from shrimp.
The bioplastic is made from the most popular component of shrimp shells, which is chitin, a substance that is also found all throughout the insect kingdom in the form of wings and exoskeletons. Because of its widespread use in invertebrate life, chitin is the second most common organic material on Earth…so there is plenty to fill the human need for plastic products.
To make the product the chitin was treated with sodium hydroxide, which turns the substance into chitosan, a polysaccharide that is already used in the medical field, in water filtration, and farming. The chitosan is combined with a protein from silk, resulting in a product called Shrilk. The Shrilk is then turned into plastic products with a 3D printer.
As for the biodegradable aspect of the plastic, research has shown that it breaks down in two weeks, even turning into an effective stimulant for plant growth, as demoed in the video immediately below.