Cow-sein Plastics?
Justin Du
David Thompson Secondary
Floor Location : J 165 N

The Earth is increasingly becoming cluttered and polluted at an alarming rate in the air, sea, and ground. Amongst the massive varieties of things cluttering just bodies of water, man-made plastics are one of the biggest categories responsible for the contamination of the environment. Many marine animals mistake plastics as food, consuming it, and consequently die; the material itself decomposes slowly and releases methane in the process of breaking down. Without a proper solution to this problem, the future of this planet will undoubtedly head off towards consequences much more severe than those the world is facing today.

The aim of this project is to explore casien, a protein found mainly in cow's milk, in the manufacture of biodegradable plastics. Casein plastics were introduced in the mid 19th century by Adolf Spittler and Wilhelm Krische, both German scientists. Spittler experimented with the use of milk in plastics; in the meantime, Krische looked for alternatives to students' slate tablets. After years of development, the two men successfully filed a patent and casein plastics suddenly became a product many firms across Europe wanted. However, after a century of popularity, newly developed petroleum plastics were introduced and replaced casein plastics because of the lower cost to produce.

In this project, the casein was separated from the milk by means of acid precipitation with white vinegar. The resulting protein was heated in order to make it more malleable to mold onto a wax paper-lined glass jar. In order to make the resulting dried container-shaped casein waterproof, I decided to look for an option other than formaldehyde, the chemical used in the starting developmental stages of casein plastics. Looking at multiple organic alternatives to waterproof the casein, I settled on beeswax, a naturally occurring product that was most importantly biodegradable as well as easily applicable to the casein.

Multiple interesting discoveries were made during the process of creating these protein-containers. While testing three types of milk - skim, 2%, and 3.25% - I discovered that the highest fat content milk yielded the most amount of casein while the skim milk had results completely opposite to the homogenized milk. However, despite the low yield of casein from the skim milk, it was discovered to dry clear, opening an opportunity to replace a larger variety of plastics. These containers were a success; with the layer of beeswax, the casien containers were capable of repelling water for more than 2 weeks.

Casein plastics are obviously aimed to alleviate the amounts of plastic produced and disposed of improperly. These include a wide variety of objects: casein plastics mainly target one-use plastics, such as plastic bottles, food containers, and possibly even wrappers. Additionally, the milk-based plastics are also digestible, which is a major advantage over the conventional petroleum plastics currently produced. With this big of a window of opportunity for casein plastics, the increase of global warming and pollution levels could be significantly slowed if this product were to be implemented. Casein plastics could truly save the future of Earth.