About 2 billion pounds of feathers are produced each year by the U.S. poultry industry.
Chicken feathers are now being sorted, processed and made into many useful products. Some you really don't want to think about. The processed fibers from chicken plumage have been used in plastics, in paper pulp and textiles. They can also be used to make a polymer film that is made into thin sheets of plastic similar to cellophane. This polymer may first show up in biodegradable candy wrappers and plastic holders for six packs of beverages. It may also be used in plastics for dog food bowls and automobile dashboards. And a process has even been developed to make the quill protein 90% digestible - possibly for use in dietary supplements. So you could soon be eating a chicken quill protein bar wrapped in biodegradable chicken feather plastic wrap. Mmmm, Mmmm good!
Car Parts from Chickens, Diane Martindale - Scientific American, April, 2000.
Poultry Feathers Made Into Plastic Mulch
By Sharon Durham, February 24, 2005
Agricultural Research Service (ARS)* scientists who have developed a method to turn chicken feathers into plastic products are continuing to bring the technology closer to the marketplace.
ARS chemist Walter Schmidt developed the technology to clean feathers and separate them into chopped fibers and quill pieces. Now Schmidt and fellow ARS chemist Justin Barone have developed and applied for a patent for a process to convert cleaned and chopped feather material into plastic products on a laboratory scale. Schmidt and Barone work in ARS' Environmental Quality Laboratory in Beltsville, Md.
According to Barone, the material is made on traditional plastics processing equipment using chopped chicken feathers and other easily obtainable, naturally derived materials. The feather-derived plastic can be molded just like any other plastic and has properties very similar to commodity 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.
Previous research by Schmidt and Barone found feather fiber could be added into currently used plastics to make composites. The fibers strengthen the plastic components, and reduce the weight of the material. Currently, the additives and fillers used in plastics by the automobile industry, for example, add significant weight to car parts. Using feather fiber is a viable alternative to these additives.
Approximately four billion pounds of feathers are generated each year during the poultry production process, resulting in a serious solid agricultural waste problem. This new application not only is a solution to an environmental problem, but also cost-effectively enhances the commercial and economic value of feathers.
*Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.