April 27, 2016

Think about how much plastic packaging you buy in one trip to the grocery store. Even if you bring your own reusable carrier bags, there’s plastic on the loaf of bread, the bag of carrots, the frozen peas, the chicken breasts—it’s almost impossible to avoid it.

That’s a problem: The EPA says that in 2013 Americans threw away about 33 million tons of plastic—only a fraction of that is recycled—and that over 8 million metric tons of plastic pollution finds its way into the world’s oceans annually.

Recently, researchers at universities in Spain and Singapore found a possible solution to this problem in an unlikely material: crab, lobster and shrimp shells.

The scientists created a new food wrap made with chitosan, a natural substance that can be extracted from crustacean shells. Not only is this wrap biodegradable, it also has natural antimicrobial and antifungal properties that help food stay fresh longer.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore found that bread stayed mold-free for five days instead of three when packaged in chitosan wrap instead of plastic. With the addition of grapefruit seed extract, they could keep the bread mold-free for 10 days.

Researchers estimate that they are three to five years from being able to scale production up enough for widespread commercial use. And the cost to make the biodegradable wrap is about 30% more than plastic wrap, meaning consumers may have to be willing to pay more for cleaner oceans and a cleaner conscience.

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