Creepy as it may sound, for decades one of the key ingredients in cattle feed was meat and bone meal (MBM), made from by-products of – you guessed it – slaughtered cattle. Sheep, farmed deer, elk and bison were also unknowingly eating their own kind. With the onset of the Mad Cow Disease scare in 1997, the U.S. and other countries banned the use of MBM-containing feeds, as it was believed that the disease could spread via the ingestion of infected animals' body parts. That ban has resulted in large quantities of MBM simply ending up in landfills. Now, however, scientists are suggesting that it could be used to make green(ish) plastics.

"More than nine billion pounds of protein meal are produced by the U.S. rendering industry each year, and most of that is meat and bone meal," said Fehime Vatansever, a graduate research assistant at South Carolina's Clemson University. "The meal from cows had to be treated with harsh chemicals to destroy any BSE and then put into special landfills. We thought we could keep meat and bone meal from being deposited in landfills by using it to make petroleum-free bioplastics."

Vatansever and her colleagues created a plastic that uses MBM as the raw material, instead of the usually-used chemical compounds derived from petroleum or natural gas. They then mixed their plastic with ultra-high-molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE), a tough plastic used in items such as skis and snowboards.

The resulting MBM/UHMWPE composite was shown to be almost as durable as straight UHMWPE, but with the side benefits of being partially biodegradable, and requiring less petroleum to produce.

The research was recently presented at the 241st National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society.