Covered in Plastic
Plastic can be found just about everywhere these days: buried in landfills, littered along roadsides, floating down rivers, forming rafts in the oceans, and left in the snows of Mount Everest. Unfortunately, those same plastics are not biodegradable, and will stay where they are for centuries.
We've come to rely on plastics. They are lightweight. Plastic films protect our foods and package merchandise. They make surgery more sterile. Most of all, they make life more convenient.
But if we want to stop polluting the environment with plastic waste, alternative materials need to be discovered or created. A group of scientists from Spain and Ireland think they may have found one type of plastic replacement: Chitosan.
Chitosan is made of discarded shells from shrimp, prawns and other crustaceans. Carrots covered in chitosan-based film have a greater shelf life and maintain their appearance longer than those without. Chitosan not only covers the food, it has natural antimicrobial properties to help preserve food.
Chitosan is better than plastic in terms of the environmental impact. It is created with a renewable resource instead of petroleum by‑products. But manufacturing chitosan does not come without problems. The process works in the laboratory, but massive industrial use of chitosan will create some pollution of its own. Developing manufacturing techniques will be a future goal for commercial developers.
Scientists experimenting with chitosan say their product is only one of many new substances that could be used to replace plastics and maintain our standard of living. Like using a combination of wind, solar and water for power, chitosan could be one food packaging product among many.
"Quality Attributes of Map Packaged Ready‑To‑Eat Baby Carrots By Using Chitosan‑Based Coatings" (Postharvest Biology and Technology)