Turning Towards Bioplastic
Plastic is one of the major toxic pollutants of our time. It’s a non-biodegradable substance composed of venomous chemicals and pollutes the earth, air, water and eventually us. In today’s scenario, plastic disposal is one of our foremost challenges to save our planet from destruction. However, major steps have been opted and undertaken to trim down the plastic lineage.
Recently at the 241st National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society held last week in California, Dr. Yiqi Yang, from the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, introduced a new type of bioplastic made out of waste chicken feathers. Bioplastic is an organic substance which is a form of plastic derived from reusable biomass sources such as vegetable oil, corn starch etc.
These feathers are ideal for use in bioplastics. These are available in abundance and as we know are also inexpensive. In an annual average, the United States alone generates more than 3 billion pounds (appox. 1.36 billion kg) of chicken feathers. These unwanted feathers are being further processed into low-grade animal feed or are simply discarded.
As mentioned earlier, Dr. Yang’s bioplastics are made of waste feathers and are made up of Keratin. The feathers are mainly composed of Keratin, a protein which is also found in animal’s hoofs and horns, as well as in human hair/nails. Thermoplastic film, a plastic film which shrinks when heated, is made from keratin. Thermoplastics have excellent mechanical properties which exhibits better strength and are more tear-proof, than plastics made from other biological sources such as modified starch or plant proteins. The feathers are processed with polymerizing chemicals including methyl acrylate. This causes the plastic’s molecules to link together and forms long chains which have been named as “feather-g-poly” plastic, by Dr. Yang and his team. Therefore, “feather-g-poly” provides us with a possible new man-made biodegradable marvel, eco-friendly Chicken Feather Bioplastic.
Although bioplastics were also produced earlier from other biodegradable waste, they lacked water resistance, and hence were not compelling enough to join the highly tough ranks of usable plastics. At present, the bioplastic introduced by Dr. Yang claims to have overcome the water resistance problem, by processing the feathers with the earlier mentioned polymerizing chemicals and methyl acrylate. This makes it more competitive when compared to other types of bioplastics. It 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.
While governments may be working out ways to lessen the impact of plastics on the environment, let each of us come together and shoulder some of the responsibility for this problem, which one day will ultimately harm us and future generations.