Our oceans and landfills are choking with the results of our addiction to petroleum-based plastics. Scientists say the answer could be lying on the barnyard floor.
Factory farms are a nasty and wasteful in many different ways that we won't explore here. Among other things sacrificed by the chickens raised in an industrial operation are feathers. Billions of pounds of them a year.
Now, new research suggests that chicken feathers could be used to produce eco-friendly, biodegradable plastics.
Dr. Yiqi Yang, from the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln recently presented the attendees of the 241st National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society to an unexpected discovery: “feather-g-poly” plastic, an eco-friendly biomaterial that has excellent properties as a thermoplastic.
"Others have tried to develop thermoplastics from feathers," said Yiqi Yang. "But none of them perform well when wet. Using this technique, we believe we're the first to demonstrate that we can make chicken-feather-based thermoplastics stable in water while still maintaining strong mechanical properties."
To develop the new water-resistant thermoplastic, Yang and colleagues processed chicken feathers with chemicals, including methyl acrylate, a colorless liquid found in nail polish that undergoes polymerization - that's the process used in producing plastics in which molecules link together one by one into huge chains (Packaging Digest).
According to the researchers, the chicken feather bioplastic is not only strong but can also be melted down and reused like other thermoplastics. Even after its reuse, it maintains the water resisting feature. At the same time, these bioplastics get easily degraded without harming their surroundings, than the stretched time taken by any plastic products (EcoFriend).
Unfortunately, the methyl acrylate used to catalyze this plastic has been flagged as both a neuro and respiratory toxicant for humans. Not exactly something you'd want to pack your lunch in. Or have leaching into your water supply.
Either way, scientists seemed determined to reuse waste products from the world's massive poultry consumption in some productive way. Recently NASA scientists traveled to California to test an eco-friendly jet fuel made from chicken fat.
Image Credit: Flickr CC - Just chaos