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