A Waikato University research company has pioneered what it believes is a world first. It's found a way to turn dried blood and animal waste into products like plant pots, seedling trays and even pegs.
“Dry blood it sounds icky, I know, and it is something that's certainly a bit odd, but it's a protein and protein is a plastic,” says researcher Johan Verbeek.
Plastic pollutes waterways and threatens marine life, and the average New Zealander throws away 45kg of it each year.
“There are plenty of problems out there with plastics and the environment, and everyone knows the impact on the environment with plastics. We have a potential solution here,” says Aduro Biopolymers acting chief executive Darren Harpur.
That solution is a biodegradable plastic. The blood meal is first put in a blender with water and urea, before being fed through an extruder, where the material is heated until it's molten.
“Then it comes out as like spaghetti strands, and that's the plastic. And we just chop it up into little beads and then this is shaped into a product that we want,” says Mr Verbeek.
Products include pegs for weed mats, plant pots and measuring spoons for the horticulture industry.
Aduro Biopolymers, a commercial arm of the University of Waikato, says the product has huge exporting potential.
“The intention here is to not just have a domestic opportunity, but to go global with this,” says Mr Harpur.
The project has received hundreds of thousands of dollars of funding from Sir James Wallace.
“Wallace Corporation's main thrust in terms of its business is to deal with the vast tonnages of waste from agribusinesses, and if we can add value, more and more value to it, then to the finished product from it, then it's not only to the advantage of our partner suppliers, but ourselves, but also to the country,” says Sir James.
And there's no environmentally friendly catch, because it's cost-effective too.
“Our starting material is relatively cheap. We don't require complex manufacturing method. In fact, product manufacturing can take place with existing manufacturing equipment,” says Mr Harpur.
The company hopes to take the product to the market by 2015.
It expects its biggest challenge will not be funding, but rather sourcing enough dried blood.