Nasty or nice? Designer's "Coleoptera" bioplastic is made from dead beetles

Aagje Hoekstra
© Aagje Hoekstra

Might we someday be eating with spoons and cups made with dead beetle shells? Dutch designer Aagje Hoekstra certainly hopes so; the Utrecht School of Arts graduate recently debuted the material at Eindhoven's Dutch Design Week that is made out of shells sourced from dead darkling beetles.

© Aagje Hoekstra
© Aagje Hoekstra

Hoekstra tells Dezeen about her Coleoptera bioplastic, which gives a "second life" to what is an agricultural byproduct, transforming it into a material that is waterproof and heat-resistant up to 200 degrees Celsius:

In the Netherlands mealworms are bred for the animal food industry but they transform into beetles. After laying its eggs the beetle dies, so insect farms in the Netherlands are throwing away 30 kilograms of dead beetles every week.

© Aagje Hoekstra
© Aagje Hoekstra

Taking these leftover beetles, Hoekstra peels them to leave only the shells, which consist of a natural polymer called chitin. Subjecting the shells to a chemical process, Hoekstra converts the chitin into chitosan, which bonds better on a molecular level. The chitosan can then be pressed into plastic with heat, still imprinted with the distinctive shell-shaped patterns, says Hoekstra:

I wanted to keep the structure of the beetle in the plastic so you know where it has come from.

© Aagje Hoekstra

So far, Hoekstra has created some jewelry pieces with this intriguing material, and this is not the only instance of insect-derived bioplastics we've seen. There might be a bit of an "eww" factor here, but considering the possible positive impacts of getting over cultural constructs about eating insects, these insect bioplastics are a clever re-use of what is usually wasted. More over at Aagje Hoekstra's website.

Tags: Bioplastics | Insects | Netherlands