Futuristic environmental efforts demand that as many waste products as possible be reused. Chicken feathers is one such resource that is being reused. Plastics from chicken feathers are a new patented invention, but chicken feathers in some form or another have always been used by environmentalists. Poor folk traditionally made feather beds and pillows out of these rougher poultry feathers, while the finer and fluffier poultry coverings — down — are commercially made into finer products for the wealthier element of society. In lieu of feathers, families with many children to bed down used corn shucks. Both are resilient but chicken feathers are less noisy than corn shucks and are less liable to awaken sleepers every time they change positions.
Now it's great news that chicken feathers are going green. Inventor Justin R. Barone of the Environmental Quality Laboratory in Beltsville, MD believed that this modern day discard from chickens could be put to an environmentally sound use, thus he set out to show the world how: (“Polymer Composites Containing Keratin,” which was filed on October 13, 2005, and is a continuation-in-part of patent application S.N. 10/750,464 (Docket #0066.03), “Polymer Composites Containing Keratin”.)
Note that the product or the important part of a chicken feather is the keratin which is nothing more than a hard protein substance. Its constituency is the same as fingernails, toenails, hair, horns, etc. the question now being asked is what is it that plastics lack that chicken feathers can supply?
According to the USDA, “Feather keratin is chemically compatible with plastics, has high strength and stiffness relative to weight, and is readily available”. It's not that these plastics are adding anything new, but are simply another additive that is cheaper and plentiful. Just think how much less trash will be dumped in landfills now that chicken processing plants can sell their feathers rather than dumping them. Essentially it’s another link in the chain leading to a sustainable environment. However, as research continues it’s possible other more valuable uses can be found for this pure protein source.
Gardeners know how to use this valuable ingredient; they make it a choice item in their compost piles. Likewise the American Chemical Society has a few words to say about the use of feathers as an additive to the durability of plastic: The descriptive words they use are "inexpensive" and "biodegradable". Thermoplastics, they say, are possible with the use of chicken feathers instead of petroleum products. Apparently petroleum products have been the additive of choice until chicken feathers came on the scene.
There's more to it than that explains the American Chemical Society. Without grafting the feathers with Methyl acrylate — or some other chemical equivalent — chicken feathers would add nothing to plastics. Still, should chicken feathers get returned to the barnyard unused for some as yet unforeseen problem that may prohibit their use, they still will make a good fertilizer. It's a known fact that chicken feathers, added to a sandy soil, grows extra-large sweet potatoes. That known fact belongs to the author who once grew them that way.
As for sustainability, the whole idea is to use as many byproducts from processing plants and factories as is possible. It is not only wasteful to discard what is potentially usable, but as it is now being seen, it is disrupting the natural order of nature which has its own way of keeping the world balanced.