Eco-Friendly Plastic from Meat and Bone Meal? Yep, It's Possible!

When people started getting more environmentally conscious, one of the targets was the plastic bag. It was disposable, people and establishments were going through them quickly, and it was toxic and non-biodegradable. It took years for people to come to this realization, when landfills were filled with plastic wastes, when animals were choking and suffocating from plastic materials, and when a huge island of garbage twice the size of France had already formed in the Pacific Ocean.

Then came the era of the biodegradable plastic bags. To some,  it was a solution. To many, it wasn't enough. However, we're not here to have a debate about the multitude of problems that hound our world today because of such pollution. We're here to talk about plastic.

Plastics are usually made with petroleum raw materials but scientists from Clemson University say that they have found an eco-friendly substitute for these chemical compounds: meat and bone meal. These are prepared from waste materials from the rendering industry, which can include ground-up remnants of carcass trimmings, condemned carcasses and internal organs, and bones.

Meat and bone meal used to be fed to cattle and other animals raised for their meat or pelts but the practice was banned in 1997 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This was due to concerns that feeding meat and bone meal that could have come from an animal infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or the Mad Cow Disease would spread the disease to other live cattle.

One of the scientists conducting the study, Fehime Vatansever, explained, "The ban changed what was once a valuable resource, a nutritional component of cattle feed, into a waste disposal headache." She went on to say that the annual production of protein meal by the U.S. rendering industry exceeded over 9 billion pounds, most of which was meat and bone meal. "The meal from cows had to be treated with harsh chemicals to destroy any BSE and then put into special landfills. We thought we could keep meat and bone meal from being deposited in landfills by using it to make petroleum-free bioplastics."

And make these bioplastics they did. Instead of using chemicals found in petroleum or natural gas, Vatansever and her colleagues mixed the meat and bone meal with high molecular weight polyethylene to produce a plastic that they found was almost equal in strength to the plastics without the meal. The meat and bone meal bioplastics also had the advantage of being partially biodegradable.

Vatansever added that any BSE infectious agents that might have been present in the meat and bone meal were deactivated during the process, so you won't have to worry about the plastics being potentially ridden with disease-causing microorganisms.

This study was presented during the 241st National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society last March 27, 2011.