From Chicken Feathers to Flower Pots
September 8, 2009
Chicken feathers, usually an
unwanted byproduct of poultry processing, may have a more valuable future as an
ingredient in biodegradable flower pots, according to an
Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
Schmidt, in the
Environmental Management and Byproduct Utilization Laboratory in
Beltsville, Md., has been developing practical uses for discarded chicken
feathers. Each year, approximately 4 billion pounds of chicken feathers are
left over after processing in the United States.
Working with the Horticultural
Research Institute (HRI) in Washington, DC, Schmidt and HRI research
associate Masud Huda have formulated planting pots that degrade over variable
periods of time, ranging from one to five years.
The pots look and feel like any other plastic planters encountered at your
local nursery, but they are made to disintegrate naturally, without harm to the
environment. In fact, the potsmanufactured without any petroleum
componentswould slowly release beneficial nitrogen to the soil.
In 2002, Schmidt and Justin Barone, a former ARS research associate, found
feather-derived plastic could be molded just like any other plastic and has
properties very similar to plastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene.
This makes the feather-derived plastic a unique material for packaging or any
other application where high strength and biodegradability are desired,
according to Schmidt. In 2006, the process of making composites and films from
feather keratin was patented by ARS.
Schmidt and Huda are now working to develop fully biodegradable flowerpots.
Several commercial pot manufacturers are involved in this phase to determine
optimum production-scale molding specifications for the containers. According
to Schmidt, the "green" horticultural end products will not only help
solve the environmental problem by creating biodegradable plastics, but will
also provide a cost-effective commercial use for feathers.
ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency in the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.