Alkaline Paper Advocate

Volume 1, Number 5-6
Dec 1994

Possible Origin of Rumor about Paper from Fish

The Editor was recently informed, by someone who knew she was interested in the weird things paper can be made out of--and into--that someone had found a way to make paper out of fish.

Well, that would be a miracle. But recently paper has been made out of two other materials that come from the ocean: seaweed and shellfish shells. The seaweed story, originally written for an Italian publication about the seaweed in Venice's lagoon, was reported on p. 19 in the July issue of APA.

The other story had the same title: "Paper from the Sea," and ran in PIMA Magazine for November, on p. 26. It said,

"Scientists at North Carolina State University's College of Textiles, Raleigh, NC, have developed a method of forming paper using chitosan, a material derived from shellfish waste called chitin. [They call it waste because the shells are discards from seafood processing plants.] The new process could lead to innovative applications such as wound dressings, filters for water and air purification and biodegradable packaging for food or agricultural products. In addition to its wound healing properties and its superior wet and dry strength, chitosan paper products will have important environmental advantages. Harsh chemicals used in conventional paper processing can be replaced with harmless solvents like vinegar and water to dissolve and convert the shellfish waste into usable forms."

"Chitin" is pronounced "kite 'n." The dictionary says it is a horny polysaccharide that forms part of the hard outer integument especially of insects and crustaceans. The July 31, 1993, issue of Science News has a good three-page article on it, called "Chitin Craze," by Elizabeth Pennisi, who writes, "To obtain chitin from crab, lobster, or shrimp shells, researchers first dissolve the shells' calcium carbonate and then remove protein fragments, leaving behind chitin as a white powder. Dunking that powder in a concentrated sodium hydroxide solution heated to above 135°C removes one of chitin's side groups. This converts chitin to chitosan, a more manageable molecule that dissolves more readily."

It is as versatile as the bacterial cellulose described in the July issue of APA, and as benign environmentally. It is ideal for cosmetics, because it has a positive charge and an amine group, giving it an affinity for skin and hair; it is used in Japan for animal wounds, both as an ointment and a fibrous dressing. In both these forms it speeds healing and slows infections. It makes rice grow faster, and slows the progress of the AIDS virus in cultured cells. Used with bentonite, it precipitates suspended matter in bodies of water, without leaving metal salts in the sludge.

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