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WASHINGTON — The use of packaging plastic continues to rise as the world’s population grows. Environmentalists say compostable and biodegradable packaging is needed now more than ever, particularly when it comes to plastics used to protect our food. But now, a biodegradable film made from discarded shellfish and trees may fill that need. It’s being developed by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Lead researcher Carson Meredith is interested in exploring alternatives to crude-oil-based plastics now being used. “Probably about eight years ago, we got involved in what’s referred to as forest-based nanotechnology,” he told VOA news. This is an emerging area “looking at using wood and other plant resources to extract high performance nano-crystalline materials made out of cellulose and using those in creating light-weight, high strength materials.”

What that means, is that the same cellulose fibers found in woody plants used to make paper can also be used to replace plastic packaging material. Meredith’s group found that by combining the plant cellulose with chitin, the hard material that makes up clamshells and the exoskeleton of lobsters, they could create a biodegradable coating.

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