Major Breakthroughs In Recycling Food Waste

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January 2, 2019

Plastic is a problem. So is food waste. A team of researchers from Montreal, Canada has decided to tackle both of these issues at the same time, and the result is pretty impressive.

A report by CTV News says the team of experts at McGill University has developed a durable and fully biodegradable plastic from the leftover shells of shrimp, lobster, and other crustaceans.

And if it ends up in the ocean like all of the other plastic we dump there every day? No problem.

The plastic is made of food waste, and so the scientists behind it say the bugs and bottom-feeders in the water will degrade the objects.  

Whoa.

It’s a very complicated process. The researchers say they’ve modified chitin, the substance found in the shells, into a polymer called chitosan. The CTV report explains that the chitosan is made with a longer molecular chain, and the longer the chain, the stronger it is.  

There’s still work to be done. While the process has been patented, the resulting plastic still has to be made more malleable before it can be sold.

Still, the hope is to one day see this new material replace petroleum-based plastics, used for things like straws, disposable cutlery, plastic bags, food packaging, and even 3D printing.

I’d be interested to know if this plastic would at all affect people with shellfish allergies. Although they won’t be ingesting the plastics, could residues be left behind on the skin and in various food and drink items?

Chitin is also found in crickets, so people allergic to things like shrimp and lobster can’t eat the bugs, which are being touted as the protein of the future.  

Innovative Ideas

Around the world, there are many different efforts tackling food waste. A $2 million plant is in the works along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast where the hulls of peeled shrimp, which usually end up in landfills, will be dried and harvested for use in other products.

In Vermont and New Hampshire, a company called White Mountain Biodiesel collects used cooking oil from restaurants and turns it into environmentally-friendly biodiesel fuel, which is non-toxic and easy to use.

And in Toronto, Canada, a team of scientists at the U of T recently formed Genecis, a company taking wasted food out of landfills and converting it into PHAs, which is a quality, biodegradable form of plastic.

Synthetic plastics can take hundreds of years to break down, but PHAs are said to degrade within one year in the environment and less than ten years in water. Not too bad.

We should all be doing our part to reduce our food waste at home. Here’s hoping 2019 is a year where innovative projects like these continue to gain steam. It has to happen.

Featured image courtesy of Turn Compost.

Catherine Sherriffs
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Catherine Sherriffs

Catherine is a Canadian award-winning journalist who worked as a reporter and news anchor in Montreal’s radio and television scene for 10 years. A graduate of Concordia University, she left the hustle and bustle of the business after starting a family. Now, she’s the editor and a writer for Garden Culture Magazine while also enjoying being a mom to her two young kids. Her interests include great food, gardening, fitness, animals, and anything outdoors.
Catherine Sherriffs
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