It's estimated that 49 billion chickens are eaten every year, and this results in a few mountains' worth of chicken feathers in pure waste. But no more, some entrepreneurs say: chicken feathers could be the future of plastic.
It all began in 1993, according to Modern Farmer, when USDA researcher Walter Schmidt decided to turn chicken feathers into... something useful. That thing, whatever it was, would remain TBD. They fried it (which apparently tasted a lot like pork rinds). They made it into paper (which turned out textured and tissue-like).
The latest idea is plastics. Not unlike our hair and nails, chicken feathers are mostly a strong protein called keratin. The feathers can be heated, mixed with other materials, and moulded into plastic. And, as we in the 21st century know, plastics can be used to make pretty much everything, from shoes to wall insulation to circuit boards to furniture. But chicken feathers could even show up in a few more unexpected places.
Like powder makeup:
For example, the Nixa, Missouri-based Featherfiber Corp. is commercialising Schmidt's group's 1998 patent on technology to separate feather fibre from the quill. Close to opening a production plant, Schmidt says they will soon produce cosmetics and car parts. "The feather fibre grinds to a powdery talc making the keratin useful in beauty products," Schmidt adds.
Feathers have even been used to replace the absorptive layer in diapers that are usually made out of wood pulp, also called "fluff pulp." Swapping wood pulp out for feathers may save more than a few trees, Schmidt points out. Plus, it just works really well.
There are lots more chicken feather ideas in the works, from oil spill cleanup to hurricane-proof roofing. In fact, Schmidt, the chicken feather evangelist, likes to speculate about the day when chicken feathers become so useful that meat is a mere byproduct of feather production. [Modern Farmer]
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