New bioplastics made from shellfish waste

The shells of crustaceans and molluscs contain chitin, a natural polymer that can be transformed into tiny filaments called nanofibrils. The partners involved in the "n-Chitopack" project use these nanofibrils to develop compostable bioplastics that offer a more sustainable alternative to petroleum-derived plastics for a variety of applications.

The project has already created a number of products based on this invention. These notably include coffee capsules, shopping bags and a variety of food packaging materials, such as hard and soft containers.

n-Chitopack’s bioplastics are not just biodegradable; they are compostable. But the project’s emphasis on sustainability is not just reflected in the final product. It has shaped the entire process developed  — starting with the extraction of the nanofibrils. Care was taken to design a method that consumes little energy, allows for recycling of all the water used in the process and generates no toxic residues.

n-Chitopack’s bioplastics could thus help to address several problems simultaneously: they could help to reduce the vast amounts of chitin waste going to landfill, they could transform part of the world’s avalanche of discarded packaging into a slow-release supply of nutrients, and they could further protect resources by slowing down the spoilage of perishable foods.

Food packaging is, however, just one of several possible applications. Chitin nanofibrils also show promise for use in medicine, more specifically for the production of bandages, where the materials’ ability to keep microbes in check are particularly valuable. They also have potential for a range of environmental solutions, including filtering systems for air or water.

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