This may not answer the old question about the chicken and the egg, but a European project is looking at whether it's possible to use poultry waste products in bio-based packaging for, among other things, poultry products.
The European poultry industry annually throws away more than 3 million metric tons of feathers from poultry slaughterhouses, according to the new Karma 2020 project. Currently, those feathers typically end up in a landfill or are incinerated, according to the Spanish plastics technology center Aimplas.
But those feathers also are an important source of keratin — a tough, fibrous, structural protein that can be used to produce different high added-value products, such as fertilizers, bioplastics, biocomposites, additives for biodegradable packages and coatings for the fabrics industry.
With 16 participants from 10 countries, the Karma 2020 project aims to develop a process to extract keratin from poultry litter, including feathers.
Aimplas, one of the partners to the project, announced in May that research work has begun to design the process.
The project will develop a waste value technology in the poultry industry to obtain new biodegradable packages, reinforcements for composites, biocomposites, fertilizers and flame-retardant breathable fabrics.
The process will involve the thorough decontamination of the litter to eliminate any pathogenic substance that may be a risk for health of people handling it at the different phases.
The feathers will be treated at nano and micro scale, to enable the extracted keratin to be treated using various different processes.
Once the keratin is obtained from feathers, a plethora of applications are possible.
For instance, these particles can be incorporated into renewably-sourced biopolymers to produce “fully recyclable and biodegradable packages” for food packaging that can be used "by the poultry industry itself,” Aimplas said in its statement. Keratin-based bioplastics are tougher and more tear-resistant than many bioplastic materials derived from plants or starch.
Another potential application field for keratin would be in the production of new biocomposites, since it can be incorporated in the form of fiber and copolymer in the composite's matrix.
The project has been funded by the European Union research and innovation program Horizon 2020.