Researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have introduced a new bioplastic isolated from shrimp shells. It’s made from chitosan, a form of chitin — the second-most abundant organic material on Earth. Chitin, a tough polysaccharide, is the main ingredient in the hardy shells of crustaceans, the armorlike cuticles of insects, and even the flexible wings of butterflies.

The Wyss Institute makes its shrilk from chitin from shrimp shells, most which would otherwise be discarded or used in fertilizer or makeup, and a fibroin protein from silk. Shrilk is cheaply and easily fabricated by a method that preserves chitosan’s strong mechanical properties. Objects made from shrilk can be mass-manufactured, and will be as robust as items made with the everyday plastics used in toys and cellphones. This environmentally safe alternative to plastic could also be used to make trash bags, packaging, and diapers.

Once discarded, shrilk breaks down in just a few weeks and releases rich nutrients that support plant growth.

Watch a video describing the process on Tech Briefs TV at www.techbriefs.com/tv/shrimp-plastic.

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