Shrimp shells are now providing a new way to create plastic materials. A “plastic” is any compound that is moldable solid. The chitosan, or the material that is part of shrimp shells, has been found to be a key ingredient in a new type of plastic, called shrilk.
Shrilk has been created by researchers at Harvard University, who took the chitosan from shrimp shells and combined it with silk to create a strong material that feels much like the shell from a beetle or other insect. By changing the formula, the researchers found that they could mimic the varying properties of plastics.
Traditional plastics are made from petrochemicals, which can be effected by oil prices as well as cause issues with the environment. In fact, there have been so many plastics dumped in the ocean that there is an area known as the Pacific Trash Vortex, which is where literally tons of garbage has floated, much of it plastic pieces that simply won’t deteriorate. Unlike traditional plastic materials, the creators of shrilk say that it is completely biodegradable. This will eliminate the issues in the oceans with birds and fish getting caught on garbage bags and other pieces of plastic and dying.
Researchers believe that the creation of shrilk is a first step in the right direction. With one of the key characteristics being that it is biodegradable, the next area for research would be to ensure that it is cost effective to produce. While many innovators in the plastics research business are looking for a way to replace the plastic that we use in nearly everything, from laptop housings to pens, they need to make sure that it is economically feasible to create shrilk. The good news is that there is no shortage of shrimp shells. In fact, experts from the seafood industry say that there are so many shells after processing that they have to pay to have it removed. The research into shrilk and other biodegradable plastics will continue in the near term.
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