According to researchers at Columbia University, nearly 34 million tons of plastic waste is generated every year in the United States and less than seven percent is recovered for recycling. There is great news, however, in a “new plastic” created by Harvard’s Wyss Institute that is biodegradable and made from completely natural products—Shrilk.

The name comes from the components used to create it—shrimp shells and silk. On a more technical level, the material is composed of fibroin protein from silk and from chitin, which is the main ingredient in the hardy shells of crustaceans, the armor-like cuticles of insects, and even the wings of butterflies. This process creates a very flexible and lightweight material, that is also incredibly strong. Shrilk is similar in strength and durability to an aluminum alloy, but it is only half the weight.

The Benefits to Consumers

Shrilk can be quickly and cheaply fabricated creating a tough, transparent, and renewable product. It can be used to make complex shapes through traditional cast or injection-molding techniques. This means the material can be used to create mass-produced, sustainable products such as fast food containers, diapers, trash bags, cell phones, and toys.

It also has great potential in the medical field, since it is biocompatible. Because it’s nontoxic and won’t cause an immunological rejection, it could be used to suture wounds, help with tissue regeneration, and form protective burn coverings that dissolve over time, significantly reducing pain for burn victims.

The greatest benefit of all is that Shrilk is biodegradable and breaks down in a just a few weeks in landfill or compost piles—as opposed to plastic—and even releases nutrients that support plant growth.

Current Stage of Development

According to the manufacturer, a number of companies have already expressed interest in the material, but work on Shrilk continues in the lab to simplify the manufacturing process. We think the potential future applications for using Shrilk in flexible packaging may be unlimited. Since flexible packaging already leads the way in terms of innovation, protective properties, ease of use, and printability, adding Shrilk with its unique sustainability qualities would have great appeal for many customers. Please keep checking our blog as we bring you more news about this exciting new material as it becomes available.