Putting Waste Materials to Work Plastic from Chicken Feathers

Using waste materials to create useful and biodegradable products has long been a goal of researchers and environmentalists. One such product is plastic, which is usually made from petroleum. In the US, about one hundred billion pounds of plastic is used each year. When fossil fuels are used for these products, two problems emerge; the pollution caused in manufacturing and the disposal of the plastics after they are used. Reuse and recycling help reduce impact on the environment, but creating a biodegradable product from materials that usually end up either incinerated or in a landfill is a better option. Enter chicken feathers!

Chicken feathers as waste material

A lot of chicken is consumed in the United States, usually bought in shrink-wrapped containers at the supermarket. All those birds yield about three billion pounds of feathers per year. Some of those feathers are ground up to make low quality animal feed, since they do contain protein. However, this practice carries with it the risk of spreading diseases. The bulk of the feathers often become a pollution problem and are either incinerated or dumped into landfills.

Thermoplastics or thermosetting plastics

Two types of plastic are manufactured. Thermoplastics, used in a myriad of consumer products, get their name from the fact that heat is needed to harden the liquid plastic, and they can be melted and reused again and again. Thermosetting plastics will harden only once and therefore cannot be recycled.

Thermoplastic film from feathers

Because such an abundance of feathers is available, it makes sense to find a way to use them that will add value and provide a safe and affordable product. Avian feathers are composed mostly of keratin, a tough protein also found in hair, hooves and horns. This material can add strength and durability to biodegradable plastics. The problem up to this year has been to make the plastic waterproof.

In a speech before the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society this March, Yiqi Yang, PhD announced a new breakthrough in research. While plastics made with feathers are stronger than those made with soy protein or starch, they have not been resistant to water. Mr. Yang announced a new process that results in plastic film from chicken feathers that is tough and water proof.

Plastic flower pots and office furniture

Two companies are working on commercial products using plastic made from Avian feathers. One of these, Eastern Bioplastics, LLC sells plastic flower pots that are 40% bioplastic from chicken feathers. They have also made a pot that is 100% bioplastic but it is not ready yet for commercial use. According to Sonny Meyerhoeffer, who owns the company, that product is about eighteen months from being commercially practical.

Chicken feather plastic can only replace about 3% of the petroleum now used in the manufacture of plastics made in the US. It may not sound like much, but it is a beginnng.

For more information about products made from this plastic, visit Petoskey News.