Could a Bioplastic Made from Manure Solve Wisconsin's Waste Woes?

May 23, 2017

While Wisconsin is known as the Dairy State, perhaps a better moniker would be: the Land of Milk and Manure. With more than 1.2 million dairy cows in Wisconsin, the state is inundated with trillions of pounds of manure every year.

But Wisconsin is not alone. The proliferation of large-scale farming in the United States and throughout the globe has left many communities dealing with a poop predicament.

Dutch artist Jalila Essaidi was tasked with solving the manure problem in her own community. Her solution? Mestic: a bioplastic fabric made out of processed manure. The revolutionary fabric earned her a Global Change Award from the H&M Foundation. Essaidi first came up with the idea for Mestic when she was challenged by policymakers in her region to find a creative solution to their manure problem. 

A dress made from Mestic.
Credit Mestic / Facebook

"At the moment our natural environment is getting destroyed by all the excess manure. And the only thing they do with excess manure is burn it or use it on the ground, but in the Netherlands we don't have enough ground to get rid of all the cow manure," Essaidi explains. "So when I got challenged, I went to the farmers and got my first material and started experimenting and looking at the makeup of the manure to create new materials out of it." 

Since cows eat a lot of cellulose, she decided to look at creating textiles, which often use cellulose as a base. She says the idea isn't necessarily new, since in the early 20th century many of the materials and fabrics made in the Netherlands were created by processing cellulose. That changed as a result of the oil industry, and these materials were no longer "economically viable," according to Essaidi. 

"At this moment we have a new source and that's manure, to use to create the plastics, in this case," says Essaidi. She says Mestic could also, "replace fibers based on wood and cotton, which is also a not very sustainable way of creating textiles. So it's connecting the one industry... with another industry, the textile industry, so solving a problem by connecting two problems of two different industries."

"[It's] solving a problem by connecting two problems of two different industries."

Essaidi is known for her use of modern biotechnology as a way of addressing and considering sociological issues. Another one of her projects, "Bulletproof Skin," garnered international attention. She implanted transgenic spider silk (produced by genetically modified goats) into in vitro human skin, to create reinforced skin capable of stopping low-speed bullets. 

Essaidi hopes her new project, Mestic, will be picked up by other countries as a way of addressing waste management.