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A drinking straw made of chitin which is degradable by the built-in enzymes when exposed to external aqueous substances.

Photo of Gary Abramov

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Idea Title

Idea Summary

A degradable drinking straw made of chitin degraded into chitosan by built-in enzymes when exposed to ambient water.

Company / Organization Name (if applicable)

Pacific Blue Innovations, LLC

A patent-pending drinking straw made of chitin is described. The inner chitin surface of the straw is impervious to water- and oil-based content. The straw on it outer surface contains desiccated (‘lyophilized’) enzymes, which, when activated by a contact with an ambient water decompose chitin into chitosan, a water-soluble substance, and thus degrade the container. Enzymes are protected from premature activation by special enzyme-containing compartments design and, optionally, via water ingress retarding means.

Items made of chitin, in the absence of degrading enzymes are water- and oil-resistant virtually indefinitely. Chitosan, on the other hand, is water-soluble, environmentally benign and advantageously used in wide-ranging industrial, medical, biochemical and agricultural applications.

Chitin is widely available a a waste product of shrimping industry.

Per US Dept. of Commerce, in 1973 alone there were 1.5 million tons of chitin produced as waste from shellfish processing. The chitinous solid waste from shrimping operations in India alone amounted to 80,000 tons in 2004.

The degrading enzymes (chitilases) are widely commercially available.

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • Straws

How is your concept recoverable?

Our patent-pending solution utilizes an inexpensive renewable material (chitin) which at present is largely wasted. The end product of the base material degradation is an environmentally-friendly chitosan with potentially numerous market applications.

How have you incorporated additional sustainability attributes (beyond recoverability) into your solution?

The base material, chitin, is decomposed into an environmentally-friendly chitosan, which has wide application in agriculture, medicine and pharmacology. Chitin, being a by-product of shrimping industry is both plentiful, inexpensive and renewable.

What regions do you plan to address with your solution (and how will you accomplish this)?


Describe your target market. Who will benefit from your product?

Retail foodservice establishments. The underlying technology can also be used for degradable food packaging

What is the current stage of development of your idea?

  • Research & Early Testing

What are the biggest challenges you are facing today? What are existing gaps in your solution?

Finding funding sources

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Materials and Technical Development
  • Supply Chain
  • Fundraising / Finance

Tell us about yourself and your team. What is your background and experience?

Small business specializing in technology development. One PhD-level biochemical scientist, one PhD-level chemical engineer, several mechanical engineers. Total 100+ years of experience in divers fields.

In what city are you located?

Vista, California: San Diego County

In what country are you located?


What is your legal / organizational structure? (if applicable)


Please describe how becoming a Top Idea will support the growth of your concept.

This concept has significant environmental implications: it utilizes a waste product and creates a new item, which itself is degradable into a useful compound.

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • OpenIDEO announcement email


Join the conversation:

Photo of Gary Abramov

Present straws are made of plastic, which don't easily degrade. Recycling them is not a viable option, since they contain very little material and the recycling efficiency would be very low (i.e. relatively expensive).
We chose chitin for the following reasons: 1. it's water-proof (it's a polysaccharide related to cellulose) 2. it's easily degraded by natural enzymes (made by bacteria and fungi), 3) it's abundant and cheap (being a by-product of a shrimping industry, currently going into landfills), 4) it's renewable (shrimp and crabs make it for themselves), 4) it degrades into a very valuable compound, chitosan, used in a variety of useful applications. Unfortunately, the reviewers thought otherwise and we did not progress into the next round. We filed several patents and are seeking private financing instead..

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