What's the Latest Development?
Two designers have come up with eco-friendly alternatives to today's common plastic by using materials that would normally be discarded. Imperial College's Jeongwon Ji extracted chitin -- "a natural polymer" -- from Chinese mitten crab shells and combined it with other ingredients to create a paste that can be molded into a kind of grainy rubber. Designer Ivy Wang, working with a research lab at Leeds University, compressed potato cell walls left over from biofuel production to develop a flexible, durable material.
What's the Big Idea?
The production of biodegradable plastic is expected to grow significantly by 2020, and will ideally help mitigate the environmental damage caused by traditional plastics. Wang's bioplastic could put a lot of biofuel byproduct -- about 2.5 tons per hectare of potatoes -- to good use. And although prized in Asia as a delicacy, the Chinese mitten crab is considered a nuisance in the UK, so Ji's bioplastic could serve as a form of pest control. Even better: Anything made from the chitin-based material will start to dissolve after being submerged in water for two weeks. Ji says, "It is about returning a kind of fragility to [objects] which usually only have a one or two year lifespan anyway."
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