Silk May Help Reduce Microplastic Usage

Silk may be able to provide an inexpensive biodegradable manufactured substitute to microplastics, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

What to know:

  • Tiny particles of plastic called microplastics are used in a variety of products worldwide to protect them from degrading. But, these microplastics are an increasingly recognized serious pollution threat because of staying power — they are now found in the air, water, soil, and even the bloodstream of animals and people.

  • A new manufacturing process may allow silk to provide an inexpensive and easily manufactured substitute to microplastics that are intentionally added to a variety of products, including agricultural chemicals, paints, cosmetics, and detergents, to make them more durable.

  • Unlike the high-quality silk threads used for fine fabrics, the silk protein used in the new alternative material is often a cast-off but is still a nature-based biodegradable replacement that is widely available and less expensive.

  • Until now, there has been no practical, economical substitute available that would biodegrade naturally, but silk is nontoxic and degrades naturally with the new processing method allowing silk to match the characteristics of the material it is being used to replace.

  • Each year, an estimated 50,000 tons of nonbiodegradable microplastics are used in the European Union alone, and the search is on for a substitute after the EU declared that they must be eliminated by 2025.

This is a summary of the article “Microencapsulation of High-Content Actives Using Biodegradable Silk Materials” published by MIT News July 20, 2022. The full article can be found on news.mit.edu.

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