Chicken feather plastics

Peak oil doesn’t just mean challenges for transportation. Oil and oil derived chemicals are an important component of many products we use – such as plastics.

All sorts of research is being done into alternative, more environmentally friendly plastics – for example bioplastics, made from plant material. These materials present a few challenges, including they are currently difficult to recycle.

At a recent American Chemical Society event, it was announced major progress has been made in turning a major waste product, chicken feathers, into plastic. Not just any old plastic but a thermoplastic, which can be melted and recycled over and over again. The chicken feather based material is reportedly also more durable than other forms of bio plastic.

I never stopped to think of all the chicken feather waste produced each year, but according to this press release from the American Chemical Society, it’s in the region of 3 billion pounds annually – just in the United States. Some of the feathers are used for animal (including chicken) feed; which aside from being low in nutrients, has the potential to spread disease.

Here I was thinking they were turned into pillow and quilt stuffing, but in most cases the feathers are incinerated and dumped in landfills. Chicken feather plastics are certainly an interesting development – not such good news for chickens though; because if it does turn out to be a commercially viable plastic, poultry demand will be even higher.

Animal welfare and the whole meat consumption issue aside though; waste not, want not – it will be a positive step in that regard. Some of our ancestors wasted no part of any animal they slaughtered; everything was used – it’s a concept we really need to get back to observing. It appears the key component of the feathers for the plastic is keratin – a protein that can also be found in hair and wool. Maybe hairdressing salons will become sources of plastic materials in the future? Hair is pretty incredible stuff – it’s even been used to help clean up oil spills.