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39: Biodegradable plastics from shrimp, manure and more

Problem:

There is too much plastic in the world that takes too long to break down.

Solution:

A compostable plastic that dissolves instantly in hot water and breaks down over a period of months on land or at sea.


In Indonesia, Kevin Kumala has taken a local and cheap root vegetable called the Cassava and combined its starch with vegetable oil and organic resins to make a compostable plastic.

The inventor claims it leaves no trace of toxic residue, which he demonstrates by drinking the dissolved plastic.

In 2014 Kumala founded Avani Eco, further innovating a material made from corn soy and sunflower seeds with which he has made ponchos. The strength of Avani Eco’s bioplastic is comparable to that of petrochemical-based plastic.

Fungus

Javier Gomez Fernandez, assistant professor and a team at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), researching into biodegradable building options investigated a fungus-like class of eukaryotes known as oomycetes.

Their structures combine cellulose with the second-most abundant polymer on the planet: chitin, an artificial polymer made from chitin, a fibrous substance which is extracted from shells of crustaceans such as shrimps.

Shrimps

Chitin is biodegradable polymer that is antimicrobial, antibacterial, and biocompatible.

Inspired by this newly studied species of oomycetes, a team at  Singapore Univeristy of Technology and Design mixed small amounts of chitin with cellulose in an industrial dough mixer to create an organic, biodegradable composite they call Fungus-Like Additive Material (FLAM).

FLAM can be 3D-printed or cast, as well as manufactured using common woodworking techniques (e.g. sawing, drilling, polishing…) and also combinations of them. (www.epd.sutd.edu.sg

Researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute have developed a material called Shrilk, an artificial insect cuticle made from chitin (a polysaccharide) and fibroin (a protein from silk).

Simply mixed together, the materials have mechanical properties that reflect the average of each material and are two times stronger than the stronger component. Shrilk could one day be used to suture wounds, and serve as scaffolding for tissue regeneration. (www.wyss.harvard.edu

Although shrimp shells are part of the waste problem in Egypt, in collaboration with the Nile University in Egypt, bioengineers at the University of Nottingham engineered chitin into biodegradable shopping bags, as well as new food packaging material to extend product shelf life.

Other materials are being developed. Scientists from the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies at the University of Bath have developed a renewable plastic from a chemical called pinene found in pine needles.

Manure

In the Netherlands, Jalila Essaïdi and her team have found a way to turn manure into a bioplastic they called Mestic, which derives from the Dutch word for manure (‘mest’).

Essaïdi was approached by the agricultural sector of the Dutch province Noord-Brabant to help find a way to deal with the surplus of the manure. An annual report in 2016 showed that a total of 190,600 tons (172,900 tonnes) of phosphate was produced in the Netherlands, of which 99.7 million kg. originates from cow manure. www.jalilaessaidi.com

Discover solution 40: Disposable cups made from gourds, avocados and others

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