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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

Written by

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..

Photo of Lauren Sider

This sounds like a really promising idea.

I did not follow the explanation about how the straws don't degrade when people are using them. Can you explain that in simpler terms?

I'm also curious about how you chose chitin. Have you made straws with other materials in the past? If yes, what worked well and not well?

Photo of Anthony Zammit

I believe it may be an option to the current straw issue but my question is, how long does it take to break down if it was to get in to our waterways? Would it be replacing one problem with the same problem and only, disappears quicker. would it be better to eliminate straws completely? I don't mean to put a damper on a good idea but it still may be a issue to a turtle for example, if it got up a turtle's nose it would be same environmental issue. How long to break down as we don't want this to happen as per Youtube clip

Photo of Gary Abramov

If it gets into waterways, it's degraded by water, and becomes a very benign compound, chitosan. The more water-the faster it degrades. At this point I simply do not know how fast a straw will be degraded: it would depend on the concentration of the enzymes and their efficacy. Even without enzymes, chitin is naturally degraded in the environment, albeit at a slower rate (this is what's going on in the oceans, with all the dead crabs shells).
You would not be able to completely eliminate straws from usage: they are too convenient and inexpensive, have been in use for a very long time, and many people swear by them: for example, they are thought to reduce erosion of teeth while drinking acidic substances like orange juice. They are also recommended while consuming teeth-staining liquids like coffee and red wine. They are also a safety item for people drinking while driving. So, straws are here to stay, at least for a foreseeable future.

Photo of Anthony Zammit

I was concerned by the images of the turtle with the straw stuck up its nose, when I seen that I was sworn off straws and ave designed many product that may eliminate straw use. I am currently in negotiations with a few large organisation with my designs, unfortunately because of NDA, I can not discuss in this competition.

You are right it will be difficult to eliminate because of convenience, this is why I designed the straw-less cup in the competition. Other designs have be non-public because of agreements.

I believe we can eliminate straw, but will take time like everything. Thanks

Photo of Anthony Zammit

Is there any after taste being a bi-product of cuttlefish?
Which part of the animal do they make Chitin from?

Thank you

Photo of Gary Abramov

They take chitin from the hard exoskeletons of the crustaceans: shrimp, crabs, etc. which is a waste product from the shrimping operations. The shells are processed to remove calcium and protein from them, to get pure chitin. I don't think cuttlefish's body is made with chitin: they are cephalopods (not crustaceans) and do not have exoskeletons: their, and octopus' bodies are soft.
Chitin is a very inert material and human saliva does not affect it. So, there's no taste. Maybe a little crunch :).

Photo of Anthony Zammit

Alright, I must have got my wires crossed a bit, I thought it came from the bones of cuttlefish. It must be something else I was thinking of when I wrote comments. I am trying to read all designs and contributions and got a bit mixed up. Thanks for clearing that up.

Photo of Anthony Zammit

Would Chitin effect people with seafood allergies of any type ?

Photo of Anthony Zammit

WE REALLY NEED TO GET AWAY FROM STRAW, but Chitin is a great product. sorry if I sounded negative in previous comment

Photo of Gary Abramov

No problem. At least you sound like a person who cares.

Photo of Anthony Zammit

I was never a Greeny but the problem is here and needs to be addressed.
I have designed many products that may eliminate straw use world wide, many designs I can not enter into this competition due to binding agreements with possible buyers. I now care because this is the only world we have to leave to my Grand Children.

Photo of rafeed hossain

This is a developed idea, How is the implementation of this idea going to happen or work? This is a large project and is going to change the behavior of the people, how are you going to incentivize them to use this type of straw instead of regular ones?

Photo of Gary Abramov

It is designed to definitely NOT change behavior of the people. The straw can be put directly into a waste stream where it will be degraded by water, or it can be collected and purposely recycled to get chitosan, which is useful in a variety of applications.

Photo of Gary Abramov

To change over the 'new' straw will require some effort of regulatory bodies and voluntary action from the likes of Starbucks, Coca-Cola and others, but not by the consumers. To the consumer, the cost of the straw is not known and is not of a direct concern: it is' baked-into' the total price of the beverage, together with the cost of the drinking cup. So, to switch people to use the new straw is not a particularly difficult task, as long as there are no other issues (usability, convenience, etc.) and they are not faced with a) side-by-side choice and/or b) beverage end price difference. As an example, right now consumers don't care if they get a take-out food/beverages in paper or styrofoam containers: they may care about general environmental issues, but as long as they are 'not' paying (they are indeed paying, but indirectly) for food packaging, they take whatever the food/beverage is packaged in, as long as there is no perceived price/utility difference.

Photo of Gary Abramov

There is already 4 million tons of waste chitin generated every year: people don't know what to do with it. India is crying for solutions.

Photo of Phoenix Gobbee

Cool idea but is it possible that there could be an increase in farming of the shellfish as a result of this new desire for chitin, and that could have negative effects.