The U.S. consulting company Frost & Sullivan has announced through the North American Biodegradable Package Market Analysis Report that as people continue to be educated on the importance of environmental protection and health, the demand for biodegradable plastic in the packing field will continue to grow. Manufactures are expected to increase production, and the entire sustainable packaging market is expected to grow at 25-30% annually for the coming few years.
In the North American market, distribution channels and other government departments are actively promoting sustainable packaging - particularly in municipalities that have styrofoam bans or offer curbside composting to their citizens and businesses.
There are a few materials being used in biodegradable packaging today, including bagasse, wheatstraw, and corn.
Corn is one of the more popular materials and you may have heard of corn being a source of bioplastics today. Field corn is harvested and the corn sugar, or dextrose, is used to create polylactic acid which can be molded into a variety of food packaging applications (such as corn cups or compostable utensils) which look and feel very similar to traditional petroleum based packaging.
But what about chicken feathers?
It may sound a bit odd, but the creation of plastic made from feathers is a recent development of Walter Schmidt and Justin Barone from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), who have patented a way to convert chicken feathers into plastic. According to the National Chicken Council, Each american consumes an average of 86.3 pounds of chicken per year. Consequently, over four billion pounds of chicken feathers and serve as a major source of agricultural waste. Unlike previous methods of plastic production which involved dissolving feathers in acids or bases (not very environmentally friendly), Schmidt and Barone believed they could convert the feathers into plastic with a little heat and pressure without acids, bases, or any solvents. Their process breaks down the sulfur-sulfur bonds in the keratin found in the feathers, and when the plastic solidifies so does the keratin. This makes the plastic very durable-and because the keratin biodegrades, the plastic does as well. In fact, scientists Schmidt and Hoda from the Department of Agriculture have been tracking the rate at which these products can biodegrade through the creation of their chicken-feather flower pots (now that's a tongue twister, isn't it?) Being biodegradable, these pots are able to rot away in 6-12 months. With a overall goal of developing biodegradable keratin-based resins that can be used by container manufacturers to provide environmentally sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based plastic containers, among other products.
It appears Schmidt, Barone, and Huda are well on their way to changing the way plastics are made, one feather at a time.