The war against plastic is getting some new players. In addition to businesses like Starbucks and McDonald’s banning plastic straws, scientists have been working on their own alternatives to unrecyclable plastic wrap.
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have used discarded crab shells and tree fibers to develop a material akin to plastic cling wrap, according to IFL Science. The crustaceans' shells contain a substance called chitin, which is the second most abundant polymer found in nature, researchers wrote in a study published in ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.
Cellulose, which is often used to make paper and certain fabrics, is the most common natural polymer, and scientists say it could be sourced sustainably from the paper industry.
The material is created by spray-coating a polylactic acid (PLA) base with these two materials in alternating layers. “The chitin and the cellulose are oppositely charged,” Carson Meredith, lead author of the paper, said in a video. “That allowed them to build nice sub-layers as they’re coated and create dense, thin films that block the transmission of oxygen.”
It’s similar to petroleum-based plastic packaging, but researchers say their cling wrap could keep foods fresher for a longer period of time because less oxygen penetrates the material.
The Georgia researchers aren’t the only ones turning to the lab to tackle the issue of plastic waste. Other pseudo plastics have been created by transforming the sugars in corn starch, cassava, and sugarcane into PLA, which is biodegradable. Another biodegradable material called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA for short) is a natural product of some microorganisms. However, according to Columbia University, a 2010 study on these bioplastics revealed that their production may be a greater source of pollution than traditional plastics, so their use might not be a surefire solution either.
[h/t IFL Science]