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Every year, somewhere in the region of six to eight million tons of waste is generated by the industry of crabs, shrimp and lobster shells. Depending on the country, these leftovers often return to the ocean or end up in landfills where plastic waste accumulates in a relentless manner. Recall that only 10% of plastic containers are recycled successfully and, for example, a plastic bottle can take approximately 450 years to decompose.
And what could crustaceans do to mitigate the disaster? Scientists have seen in their shells a valuable component, chitin. It is a polysaccharide that, along with chitosan, offers many plastic properties but it only takes a few weeks to biodegrade. The challenge now is to get enough of the shells to get a biological and cost effective plastic substitute. Assisting with this is Mari Signum, a company close to Virginia, which has begun to devise ways to get chitin in an environmentally friendly way.
Chitin is also found in insects, fish scales, molluscs and fungi. Like chitosan, it is antibacterial and non-toxic. It is already used in cosmetics, bandages and pool water treatments, but its applications could go much further. The California company Cruz Foam is trying to launch new products with it, such as surfboards. The company’s co-founder, Marco Rolandi, is convinced that he will biodegrade easily, as he himself found in a home experiment.
At the moment, the biggest problem is that to produce a single kilogram of chitin, 10 kilograms of shells and a very expensive chemical process are required. To carry out this work in a sustainable manner, companies must invest in expensive reactors resistant to corrosion, wastewater treatment and carbon dioxide capture technology, according to a statement from Mari Signum.