Researchers at the University of Cambridge have found a way to make plastic from abundant and sustainable plant proteins. Inspired by spider silk, the film works in a way similar to other plastics, but it can be composted at home.
The researchers created a plant-based plastic and added nanoparticles – particles smaller than one millionth of a metre. This meant they could control the structure of the material to create flexible films, with a material that looks like spider silk on a molecular level. They’ve called it a “vegan spider silk”. They also found that the nanoparticles helped to increase the various properties – strength and long-term durability and stability – significantly.
By creating a plastic with a more environmentally friendly manufacturing process, made from sustainable materials itself, a significant amount of energy can be saved. This is one of the most exciting parts of this study.
This new material could help solve some of the problems that plastic pollution has caused to the environment – by introducing a material from renewable source with enhanced properties suitable for many engineering applications, including packaging. The study could help to scale up the production of sustainable packaging materials, using natural resources and less energy consumption, while reducing the amount of plastic going into landfill.