When talking about plastic and sustainable practices, the conversation is probably headed in the direction of environmental crisis. We see time and time again, through news and media outlets, the havoc that plastic products are wreaking across the world. Sometimes it almost seems obnoxious, the emphasis that is put on how unsustainable plastic is. However, this really is for good reason. According to David Barnes, a lead author and researcher for the British Antarctic Survey, “One of the most ubiquitous and long-lasting recent changes to the surface of our planet is the accumulation and fragmentation of plastics.” From 2000-2010 the amount of plastic manufactured equaled the entire amount produced in the entire 20th century. Plastic contains chemicals such as phthalates, which are linked to a whole shlew of environmental and human health issues. Neurodevelopmental and reproductive developmental problems are just a few. On top of this (plus many more issues I will not discuss in this post) plastic is contaminating our oceans at a beyond alarming rate. We have all heard of the great pacific garbage patch the size of Texas. Texas, people! And although this is sadly a myth (it’s actually more of a giant congregation of microplastic that can be described as looking at soup with lots of pepper flakes in it), plastic is still causing huge issues for marine ecosystems.
Especially the microplastic because it just gets smaller and smaller, but never truly biodegrades. The actual estimate of plastic in the ocean is 250 million metric tons by 2025.
So now that I’ve given the “plastic is bad speech” once again, What are the solutions? Well, I personally have seen initiatives such as promoting reusable water bottles, grocery stores that no longer use plastic bags and the expansion of compostable to-go containers at restaurants (just to name a few). Keeping these ideas in mind, the real answer to the plastic problem is clearly shrimp. Shrimp? You are probably wondering what shrimp has to do with reusable water bottles or paper bags, and frankly, it doesn’t really have anything to do with them. However, researchers at Harvard have discovered that shrimp could be the newest, innovative solution to our plastic problem. Shrimp shells contain a material called chitosan which, when combined with wood flour, creates a sturdy yet completely biodegradable plastic-like material. The formal name for this new material is shrilk, as the first prototype of the product used a type of silk instead of wood flour in the mixture. Also, in case you have not already realized why else shrilk is awesome, shrimp shells are a byproduct of the seafood industry. Millions of tonnes of shrimp shells are wasted annually, and some fishermen claim that they pay extra for the disposal of all the shells.
With food waste being such a prominent environmental and social issue as well as contamination by plastic, shrilk seems to be the answer to any self-proclaimed, good-green Samaritans’ problems. Shrilk biodegrades in just a few weeks after its disposal and, due to the nutrient rich chitosan, can help plant growth. This material seems too good to be true! However, shrilk has yet to emerge on the market. It was trending quite a bit in the media in 2014 and then there was almost no appearance of it thereafter. If I had to guess, I would say it has to do with cost-benefit analysis of the product, which seems slightly absurd to me considering the main ingredient is a waste product. Hopefully we will see a reemergence of shrilk in the near future, and if nothing else, I would like to take a stand and be a proud supporter of the shrilk phenomena. So please, hop on the shrilk train with me and, who knows, maybe the next time you order a shrimp cocktail it won’t be a glass of shrimp and dip, but a glass made of it instead.