Within the world of packaging, a material called chitin has been getting a lot of attention in recent years. Among other things, it’s biodegradable, biocompatible, and it provides a use for seafood waste that would otherwise just end up in the landfill.
Recent studies have shown that it could be used in items like compostable food wrap, wound dressings, and even self-healing car paint. Typically, chitin is extracted from crustacean shells via an acid treatment process. According to researchers at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, however, this method is expensive, consumes a lot of electricity, and may produce toxic waste products that enter waterways.
Looking for a greener alternative, they instead tried combining prawn shells with various types of bacteria and fruit waste. The idea was that the glucose from the fruit would boost the fermentation process, chemically breaking the shells down so that the chitin could be easily extracted. A total of 10 different types of fruit waste were used, including grape pomace, apple peels, mango skins, pineapple cores, and banana peels.
The technique proved to be highly effective, and when the harvested chitin was subsequently analyzed, it was found to have a “crystallinity index” (which is a measure of purity) of 98.16 percent. By contrast, samples of traditionally-obtained chitin had an index of just 87.56 percent.
Beyond the numbers, what this really tells us is that we now have an affordable, eco-friendly technique for producing chitin, which could reduce waste from food and packaging.