Today’s Solutions: February 05, 2023

It’s no secret that plastic is not a friend to our environment. Commonly used types of plastic, like polyurethane, are made from non-renewable crude oil and will take hundreds of years to break down once thrown out. The problem is that humans use plastic for a variety of things, so much so that instead of letting go of it, we have to work to replace it with more sustainable options.

There have been exciting breakthroughs in replicating plastic with biodegradable material, like wood waste or animal skin. Now, there is another sustainable option thanks to Prof. Francesca Kerton’s team at Canada’s Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Kerton’s team of resourceful researchers has developed a plastic-like material out of the heads, bones, skin, and guts of farmed Atlantic salmon. Normally, these remains would be composted or discarded, but now, scientists are using this waste to extract fish oil and begin the “plastic” making process. Once they extract the fish oil, they add oxygen to create epoxide molecules. Carbon dioxide and cashew shell-derived nitrogen-containing compounds called amines are used to link the molecules together.

The result is a bioplastic that starts to biodegrade soon after being immersed in water. This decomposition is sped up with the addition of the enzyme lipase, an element that breaks down fats like those found in fish oil. However, lipase is not necessary to start breaking down the bioplastic. Even in regular water, the plastic still shows signs of microbial growth which eventually leads to degradation.

The team is proud that they were able to make something so useful “from the garbage that people just throw out,” and are excited to virtually present their research later this month at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society.

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