Innovation That Matters

Microscope images show the silk covered microcapsules | Photo source Muchun Liu/MIT

Silk capsules tackle microplastics

Sustainability

Biodegradable silk could replace microplastics widely used in industrial products

Spotted: Microplastics can be found in the air, water, soil, and the bloodstreams of people and animals. Around 10 to 15 per cent of them were added intentionally to products like paint, cosmetics, and detergents, generally to protect an active ingredient from premature exposure to air or moisture. With such microplastics due to be outlawed within the EU by 2025, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and chemical company BASF, have developed a silk-based alternative that is biodegradable, safe to digest, inexpensive, and easily manufactured.

Rather than laboriously unravelling silk cocoons, which is necessary to produce the high-quality silk used in clothing, this product is created using non-textile quality silk cocoons that are dissolved through a water-based process that can be used at scale and adapted to existing machinery. 

In lab tests, the silk-based protein was used to replace a microplastic coating within a herbicide. It was found to work even better than an existing commercial product, inflicting less damage to plants.

The process now has the potential to be scaled up around the world, and could even make use of surplus silk material that would otherwise be headed to landfill.

While this innovation tackles microplastics at source, Springwise has recently spotted other initiatives which are working to reduce existing microplastic pollution, such as a filter attached to sailing boats and even okra that removes microplastics from water

Written By: Joanna Robertson

Website: mit.edu

Contact: mit.edu/contact

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