Bioplastic Solutions

The Cast Skin of a Cicada

The Cast Skin of a Cicada After It Has Molted.
The chitin and protein of the old cuticle, with the exception of this thin layer has been digested.

Plastics are useful for making containers and structural materials large and small. Many plastics are made from petroleum and may persist as contaminants in the environment. A more rapidly degradable plastic would address the contamination problem. Most of the available biodegradable plastics are based on cellulose, a polysaccharide present in plants. Cellulose is most abundant polymer on the planet. So far, materials scientists have not been able to produce all the desired properties of plastics using cellulose.

The second most abundant polymer is chitin, the polysaccharide present in arthropod cuticle. Large amounts of chitin waste are produced by the shellfish industry. The muscles of shrimp, crabs and lobsters is eaten as food, but the chitin containing shells are discarded. Rather than discarding the shells, they can be processed to remove the chitin. Polymers made from chitin are biodegradable and can have properties that have not been produced using cellulose. With a ready stock of chitin available, arthropod based biodegradable polymers may be a suitable replacement for plastics in uses where ability to biodegrade is desirable.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in Biomaterials, by jjneal, Environment. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Bioplastic Solutions

  1. anastaciast says:

    Would they have to use formaldehyde as a hardener if they used chitin?

  2. jjneal says:

    Interesting question.
    It probably depends on the polymer they are making.

    • anastaciast says:

      Well, my experience with plastic containers goes back to the first Tupperware party I attended. The information that caught my ear was the lack of formaldehyde in their hardening process. Personally, I am squeamish about an embalming fluid in my plastic wear, esp ones that go in the microwave.

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