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Artificial spider silk provides sustainable alternative to single-use plastics (phys.org)
83 points by piercebot 11 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 19 comments

Looks cool. I wonder how it compares to classic plant fibres like hemp.

Also I think "vegan" is a bad tag to add, even if it was done by the journo. I don't want to open that can of soy worm-substitute, but the point of this doesn't seem to be avoiding the use of spiders or anything like that, rather it's just an efficient way to grow a cool material that bears similarities to spider silk.

Yeah, "artificial spider silk" would be better. "Vegan" underlines that no animals are involved in its production, but it should be pretty obvious that using real spider silk for such applications would be prohibitively expensive...

Do you think it's worth editing the title? Will I step on any metaphorical landmines because the HN community (for example) prefers immutability?

I don't think you should have. The HN guidelines say

>[...] use the original title, unless it is misleading or linkbait; don't editorialize.

While it being vegan is kind of beside the point, I wouldn't say that it's misleading.

This being said, the word "vegan" is not properly used here, causing confusion. "Vegan" relates to diets and food in general according to the dictionary. The author probably simply meant "plant based" and erroneously used "vegan" instead. Unless they meant it's a dish in which case... yeah, I guess.

It’s also used to talk about things like clothing made out of leather alternative.

I imagine that's also used erroneously. It may make it into the dictionary with this meaning at some point but right now people just ad-hoc borrowed the diet/food-related term "vegan" and apply it for things that use no animal products. Now imagine if someone called coal a "vegan energy source". :)

Probably marketing nonsense, like "vegan leather" ... polyurethane just doesn't sound as sexy or as "eco conscious".

fat-free sugar & sugar-free lard

Thanks for pointing that out -- I've updated the title :)

we already have substitutes for these kinds of plastics - like natureflex, which is made of wood pulp (found out about this from the tea brand I drink - https://www.teapigs.co.uk/pages/sustainability-values#plasti...).

I'm inclined to lean towards reconfigurations of simple materials (cellulose in this case) rather than high tech solutions, for the sake of simple and scalable production and lower likelihood of simply laundering the ecological impact from the finished product to the manufacturing process.

That's just a rough heuristic though, I don't know whether this or cellulose-based plastic replacements would be definitively better.

> I'm inclined to lean towards reconfigurations of simple materials ...

This is just a reconfiguration of soy protein isolate. They dispersed it in an acetic acid solution, applied heat and used an ultrasonic homogenizer, then used glycerol as a plasticizer and dried it out. I was expecting something more exotic, but this doesn't seem difficult to scale.


Last time I looked at organic milk containers I noticed even the brands with paper cartons still sprayed a plastic liner onto the cellulose.

Edit: Looks like your tea brand is actually plastic free.

Interesting! But when a material is described as "home-compostable", I immediately have to ask myself what stops it from composting while still being used as packaging? OTOH, if they make it stable enough to have a long useful shelf-life, they have the opposite problem, that it takes years to break down when in the environment. Ok, still better than most plastics...

Paper is home-compostable and stable enough for use as packaging. I imagine the key factor is always moisture in such cases.

In composting there are heat, humidity and lots of organisms. If stored dry it probably does not fall apart as fast.

Likewise, I find that home composting claims for most man made materials are claptrap as they require industrial operations with grind prep and high heat before they actually break down. Think mechanical digestors, not compost piles.

The actual paper also doesn't test the biodegradability of material.

That said, they don't use anything exotic. It's just soy protein, acetic acid, water and glycerol. It would be interesting to see how long it would last in a compost pile, but I wouldn't be surprised if it broke down fairly rapidly.


The same things that allow twigs and leaves to last much longer when not being composted.

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