Fish Waste: An Unlikely Way to Produce Green Plastics
Plastic is really useful. Some may even say it's unavoidable. But it does have a great negative impact on our planet.
Take for instance the Great Pacific garbage patch, an oceanic accumulation of trash so large it is often referred to as a garbage island. The area is twice the size of Texas and it is considered the world’s largest zone of ocean plastics. It is estimated to contain a whopping 1.8 trillion pieces of debris that are simply not biodegrading.
This is because plastic does not easily biodegrade and the sources where it comes from are also problematic since the traditional method for producing polyurethanes is very toxic and polluting. But what if we could produce green plastic from parts of fish no one wants?
Researchers from Memorial University of Newfoundland (Canada) have devised what they say "should be a safer, biodegradable alternative" to making plastics derived from fish waste — heads, bones, skin, and guts — that would otherwise likely be thrown out and become more waste. Best of all, these plastics would be biodegradable.
“It is important that we start designing plastics with an end-of-life plan, whether it’s chemical degradation that turns the material into carbon dioxide and water, or recycling and repurposing," said in a statement Francesca Kerton, Ph.D., the project’s principal investigator.
The new material was initially made with oil extracted from the remains of Atlantic salmon, remains that were about to be discarded. Kerton and her team developed a process for converting this fish oil into a polyurethane-like polymer by adding oxygen to the unsaturated oil.
The one question that is on everyone's mind of course is if the end result smells fishy. Kerton said in her statement that as the oil went through several phases to become plastic, the fish scent eventually subsided.
“I find it interesting how we can make something useful, something that could even change the way plastics are made, from the garbage that people just throw out,” said Mikhailey Wheeler, a graduate student involved in the work.
Wheeler has also been tweaking the method of making the plastic from fish oil in order to make it more dependable and biodegradable.