New Plastic Made from Shrimp Fertilizes Soil As It Degrades

New Plastic Made from Shrimp Fertilizes Soil As It Degrades

Shrimp

Harvard researchers have produced a new "bioplastic" from shrimp shells that not only breaks down after it is discarded - it also fertilizes soil.

In the search for alternatives to plastic and its polluting effects on our environment, bioplastics have proven to be durable while being produced from renewable sources such as vegetable material. While current bioplastics still do not fully degrade in the environment, new research from Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering may have a solution.

Made from a form of chitin - the main component of the exoskeletons of crustaceans and insects - "shrilk" is a tough, transparent, renewable material said to be fabricated both easily and cheaply, and can be made into complex 3D objects using traditional manufacturing methods. The name is a portmanteau of the words "shrimp" and "silk," as the bioplastic is derived from shrimp shells and a protein from silk.

The best aspect of shrilk is that it takes only a few weeks to break down after being discarded, and as it does so, it releases rich nutrients that support plant growth. The Wyss Institute researchers observed that soil enriched with shrilk encourages plant growth within three weeks.

According to researchers at Columbia University, the U.S. generates 34 million tons of plastic waste every year, and less than seven percent is recovered for recycling. Plastic buried in landfills can take 1000 years to degrade.

Source: Harvard Gazette

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Science: We got tired of keeping score
Philosophers: 1

Soil is shrimp plastic. SOIL IS SHRIMP PLASTIC.

Seriously, science seems to find new ways to surprise me.


And now shrimp plastic, Bubba would be proud.
Seriously, really cool how science has allowed us to use waste we normally throw away, then allow the waste from that to fertilize our plants. I could almost cry thanks to this genius.

I'm guessing the world doesn't produce enough shrimp to cover our plastic needs, but this also concerns me for another reason: if it breaks down just weeks after being discarded, what's to keep it from breaking down "just weeks" into storage?

Don't put anything you want to keep into a shrilk jug...

Pyrian:
I'm guessing the world doesn't produce enough shrimp to cover our plastic needs, but this also concerns me for another reason: if it breaks down just weeks after being discarded, what's to keep it from breaking down "just weeks" into storage?

Don't put anything you want to keep into a shrilk jug...

I was wondering that too. What are the parameters of the exposure it needs to break down?

Still, if we can cut down plastic production, I'm all for it.

Sweet jellied black jesus - this is awesome! Biodegradable plastics!

If anything, the only question I have is... if you don't want it biodegrade any time soon, can you prevent that?

Like, if its the plastic components in gaming hardware, or for a PC - will it be able to last at least a few years before going moldy?

This is a really cool idea, and something I've been hoping to see for awhile. If I understand correctly, the primary application for this technology would probably be agricultural.

Awhile back, I spent some time working on an organic farm. One of the things that constituted a big pain and expense was that they always had to pull up and replace any plastics they used for surface water / soil management, before they could start to degrade and release harmful chemicals that would have cost the farm its organic certification.

At the time I speculated that something like this "shilk" stuff (lol, I don't see them taking that name to market) would be more efficient, since you could just leave it there and let it biodegrade into nutrients. So, in this case you would actually want it to degrade more rapidly than regular plastics anyway, assuming it is sufficiently benign chemically speaking to be certifiably organic.

Even if not, it's still probably healthier for your crops than regular inorganic plastics.

This is great and I wouldn't want to take anything away from that, but we would be talking about an awful lot of shrimp for large scale production of this. After all, we aren't even talking about the whole shrimp, just the exoskeleton, so how many tons of shrimp would you need to make one ton of bioplastic? I suspect supply might be a problem.

Pyrian:
I'm guessing the world doesn't produce enough shrimp to cover our plastic needs, but this also concerns me for another reason: if it breaks down just weeks after being discarded, what's to keep it from breaking down "just weeks" into storage?

Don't put anything you want to keep into a shrilk jug...

These are the exact 2 issues I was wondering about as well.

Anyone else see the icon for this article and immediately think Jimquisition?

TallanKhan:
This is great and I wouldn't want to take anything away from that, but we would be talking about an awful lot of shrimp for large scale production of this. After all, we aren't even talking about the whole shrimp, just the exoskeleton, so how many tons of shrimp would you need to make one ton of bioplastic? I suspect supply might be a problem.

Haven't they already figured out how to grow limitless amounts of spare tissue from modified stem cells, like for skin grafts and stuff? Entire organs are a ways off, but I suspect something like this would be fairly easy.

Guys, the article says they're using chitin, part of a shrimp shell, not the whole thing. It's a component, and following the article trail, a ridiculously common one. (2nd most common organic compound in the world). Chitin isn't just in shrimp exoskeletons, it's in bugs etc too.
Also, I highly doubt they're just grinding up a bunch of critters to make this stuff, they know the chemical composition and can probably synthesize it.

Why was this needed? we already got biodegradable plastics made out of potatoes. much cheaper to produce, we got enough potatoes to begin with and its already in use. or do they mean to produce the "hard plastics" out of it? if so, i think them degrading in weeks is a very very bad thing.

webkilla:
Sweet jellied black jesus - this is awesome! Biodegradable plastics!

If anything, the only question I have is... if you don't want it biodegrade any time soon, can you prevent that?

Like, if its the plastic components in gaming hardware, or for a PC - will it be able to last at least a few years before going moldy?

we had biodegradable plastics for years. in fact in EU the one-use plastic bags are mandated by law to be made out of it. they make thme out of potatoes and they start degrading if they get wet, so in storage they can last as long as you want to, discarded - they fall apart after rain.

Pyrian:
I'm guessing the world doesn't produce enough shrimp to cover our plastic needs, but this also concerns me for another reason: if it breaks down just weeks after being discarded, what's to keep it from breaking down "just weeks" into storage?

Yeaaah I'm kind of wondering about that myself. Even if it does, I'm sure it'll still have applications as something which doesnt need that kind of longevity. Maybe like plastic bread wrappers or something.

Steve the Pocket:
Anyone else see the icon for this article and immediately think Jimquisition?

That was my first thought. I was all "Wait, Jim's in the news?" and then I read the title and was mildly disappointed.

I still need to get the story behind why he keeps using shrimp in his videos. Every time I ask, he pretends like he has no idea what I'm on about. 'tis most confusing.

So...synthetic fertilization, eh? Any chance we can get weird programmable crops anytime soon?

Captcha: Spruce up

Hah hah!

 

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