A new cruelty-free material known as vegan spider silk could replace single-use plastic. The plant-based substance completely decomposes, helping to tackle plastic pollution.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge drew inspiration from spider silk to create the plant-based material. Spiders produce the protein silk fibre to make their webs.
Spider silk can withstand a great deal of force. Weight for weight, silk is stronger and tougher than steel.
The researchers used soy protein to create the substance. It mimics spider silk’s mechanical properties, including strength and stretchability. Its weak molecular bonds ensure that it can still break down easily.
The plastic alternative can completely decompose in household compost systems.
Dr Tuomas Knowles, part of Cambridge’s Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, spoke to The Telegraph about the project.
He said: “Because all proteins are made of polypeptide chains, under the right conditions we can cause plant proteins to self-assemble just like spider silk.”
Xampla, a company that creates plant protein materials, aims to commercialise the product. Xampla will release sachets and capsules by the end of this year. The items will be used to make plastic-free dishwashing tablet wrappers and laundry capsules.
The vegan spider silk could also replace the microplastics found in liquids and lotions. Further, the substance could be used to make high-rise escape ropes and nets, parachute cords and hanging ladders from helicopters.