Crab Shells and Tree Fibres May Now Help Replace Plastic Food Packaging
Crab, tree (Photo Credits: Unsplash, Pixabay)

Plastic has caused considerable damage to our ecosystem and continues and harm nature and human alike. Different governments in the world have tried and reduced the use of plastic, however, it is difficult to rid of it. Most ready-to-eat food products we buy come in plastic bags; a toothbrush, bottles, jugs, toiletries, most toys, straws and a lot of other things of our every day is made of plastic. While the problem cannot be solved so easily, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology has come up with a solution.

They have developed a material derived from shells and tree fibres which may help in replacing plastic. Crabs shells have a particular kind of 'chitin nanofiber' which when sprayed with cellulose from trees can form a flexible film similar to plastic packaging film. Once dried the material is durable, degradable and transparent.

Prof J Carson Meredith, who led the research said in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering, "Our material showed up to a 67 per cent reduction in oxygen permeability over some forms of PET, which means it could, in theory, keep foods fresher longer. We recognised that because the chitin nanofibres are positively charged, and the cellulose nanocrystals are negatively charged, they might work well as alternating layers in coatings because they would form a nice interface between them."

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Meredith also said that the material could offer advantages over polyethene terephthalate (PET), which is one of the most commonly used transparent packaging materials. Meredith claimed that there is enough material available to make the new films with enough leftovers from the shellfish food industry. The group is now working on trying to improve the material's ability to block water. They are also exploring the development of manufacturing processes which could eventually help the materials to be produced commercially.