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Researchers Develop Environmentally Friendly Packaging Alternative for Manufacturers

Scientists have been searching for an alternative to plastic for food packaging due to the impact the petroleum by-products have on the environment. Scientists have now identified a way to use chitosan for packaging food instead of petroleum based plastics. The hard outer skeleton of shellfish is known as chitosan. Chitosan is a type of sugar currently utilized in medicine to treat anemia, Crohn’s disease, high cholesterol, insomnia, kidney failure and obesity.

The research was performed with carrots. The carrots were preserved well and for a longer period of time with the chitosan film in comparison to carrots covered in tradition plastic film. Film is used to cover food items to protect from microbes and to preserve the shelf life of the food items.

Litter and trash from overturned garbage containers account for a large amount of the pollution in rivers, streams and oceans. Food containers and packaging comprise a large percentage of the litter and trash. Combined with dumping from ships and discarded fishing gear, fish and wildlife are suffering from polluted natural habitats. Plastic debris injures fish, birds, turtles and aquatic mammals daily. News reports of beached whales found with plastic disposable cups, plastic shopping bags and other strange debris lodged internally is common place.

Over one trillion plastic shopping bags are used every year worldwide. Scientists estimate that it takes 1,000 years for a shopping bag to breakdown. Retailers in the United States spend more than four billion dollars each year in purchasing single use plastic shopping bags. Plastic bags are toxic even after they begin to dissolve. The toxic particles remain in the ocean polluting fish and other ocean life. Humans consume fish that have swallowed the toxic plastic debris.

Chitosan may be the answer to the problem of petroleum based plastic food containers, wraps and plastic shopping bags. In the future, we may unwrap a pack of hot dogs bagged in a chitosan wrapper. Shoppers may carry reusable chitosan shopping bags and plastic may never litter rivers, streams and oceans again.

 

*Photo courtesy of Beautiful Bali by Onny Carr at Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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