(illustration by Lovisa Burfitt via source)
The lowly shrimp is actually a mighty power player in the world of natural polymers: its shell contains a long-chain polysaccharide that makes it hardy (and butterfly wings flexible). Chitosan is better known as a popular dietary supplement because fabricating it into complex 3-D shapes has proved much more difficult than losing weight permanently. (image)
Researchers at Harvard's Wyss Institute recently developed a method to utilize chitosan in large-scale manufacturing of everyday objects — from cell phones to food containers and toys.
Unlike most bioplastics made from plant-based cellulose, the chitin-based bioplastic poses neither a threat to trees nor competition with the food supply. When it does get discarded, it only takes about two weeks to break down and begin releasing a stream of rich nutrients that support plant growth and life. "There is an urgent need in many industries for sustainable materials that can be mass produced," explains Wyss's Don Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who is also a professor of Vascular Biology at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School and Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "Our scalable manufacturing method shows that chitosan, which is readily available and inexpensive, can serve as a viable bioplastic that could potentially be used instead of conventional plastics for numerous industrial applications." (illustration)
Including, of course, the fashion bidnez.
Textiles by the tons end up in landfills - more than a million of them each year. This figure includes the 26 items of still-wearable clothing each household contributes annually as well as the 15% of fabric that fashion designers scrap during the design process. And when the fabrics are dyed, it accounts for up to 20% of worldwide water pollution. Suffice it to say that the fashion industry has some distinctly unflattering, yesyourasslookshuge angles.
Happily, textile scientists like green-chemistry expert Richard Blackburn of the University of Leeds are on the same sustainable wavelength as the Wyss group. Blackburn intends to eliminate the need for dye water entirely, particularly for manmade fabrics like polyester. Polyester, a type of plastic, is created by manipulating a chain of molecules in a chemical reaction called polymerization. When a molecule that contains color bonds to the chain comprising the polyester fiber, the resulting fabric is light-fast and won't fade when washed. “The trick lies in coloring the polyester as it is being made," notes Blackburn (this LBD was made from fabric he engineered). "One of the things I’m most keen on is trying to get designers to think about sustainability and the full supply chain," he continues. "If the designer understands it, they can build in aspects of sustainability—be it in relation to materials use, processes that are used, or what happens at the end of life. If they just design it to look nice, they won’t ever consider sustainability."
Using technology to forge a fashionable way forward is a signature of the Futurenetic fashion tribe.* For more of my posts about podcasts about this tribe, CLICK HERE. *To learn more about all the fashion tribes I cover, START HERE.
- Lesley Scott