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Startup Develops Biodegradable Shotgun Wads

Colorado-based Eco Shot aims to replace conventional plastic wads that contribute to long-lasting environmental pollution with PHA-based products that biodegrade within months.

Norbert Sparrow

May 29, 2024

3 Min Read
3D-printed biodegradable shotgun wads
Image courtesy of Beyond Plastic

At a Glance

  • Approximately 32,500 metric tons of wads are purchased in the United States each year.
  • The PHA-based wads will biodegrade in soil in a matter of months, according to Eco Shot.
  • Ballistic performance reportedly matches — and in some cases exceeds — that of conventional plastic wads.

Biodegradable shotgun wads? Frankly, I did not see that one coming. But Beyond Plastic, a developer and supplier of polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) biopolymers, and Colorado-based startup Eco Shot LLC make a pretty good case for their adoption.

About 10.4 billion shotgun shells are sold each year to hunters and shooting-sports enthusiasts in the United States alone, according to market analysts. That pencils out to approximately 32,500 metric tons of wads purchased and consumed, according to Fred Pinczuk, chief technology officer at Beyond Plastic.

Traditional plastic wads are typically made from polyethylene or polypropylene, contributing to plastic pollution in the environment and posing a risk to wildlife that ingest the waste. PHA-based wads, by contrast, will biodegrade in soil in a matter of months, “as opposed to traditional plastic that lasts for hundreds of years,” said Pinczuk.

PHA's density causes wads to sink in marine environments.

An additional advantage of the Eco Shot wads is the material density of PHA, which is higher than both conventional plastics and water. If discharged over water, they will quickly sink, vastly reducing the possibility of harmful interactions with wildlife, said the company. 

According to Beyond Plastic, PHA degradation within a marine environment is similar to — if not faster than — cellulose. “Per the same mass, paper is expected to biodegrade within 180 days at 90%,” Pinczuk told PlasticsToday. The rate is also dependent on the thickness of the part, environmental temperatures, and bacterial loads, he added. “The warmer the temperature it is exposed to, the faster it will degrade. The higher the concentration of bacterial load, the faster it will degrade, as well. So, under ideal conditions, meaning in the hot swamps of Florida, we would expect an un-spent wad to be gone in six to nine months,” said Pinczuk. “In the bottom of the ocean at 16,000 feet and 5°C, we would expect it to take two to three years.”

Related:Are Bioplastics Finally Ready for Take Off?

Moreover, there are ways to accelerate biodegradability using bio-fillers or plant waste, Pinczuk added. And considering that these items are “blasted out of a barrel under very high pressure and velocity,” they are likely to break into several pieces, increasing the surface contact area and, thus, facilitating degradation, he noted.

Consistent ballistic and exceptional performance results.

As for shell performance — a critical parameter for hunters and sport shooters — Pinczuk and Eco Shot founder Andrew Thomas are adamant that the biodegradable version matches the current product and, in some cases, improves on it.

Related:5 Plastics Sustainability Trends to Track in 2024

Eco Shot said it has successfully 3D printed prototypes using Beyond Plastic’s PHA 3D-print filament and created a suitable design and production process. “We have found the Beyond Plastic PHA formulations we are working with to produce consistent ballistic and exceptional performance results,” Thomas told PlasticsToday. “Furthermore, much of the load data currently available to consumers is outdated due to discontinuation of other required components. Our process will allow us to better serve customers by ensuring current and relevant load data is available.”

Higher cost offset by environmental benefits.

Initial pricing of the biodegradable shells will be slightly higher than their counterparts, acknowledged Thomas, given that the raw material is more expensive than cheap fossil-fuel-based plastics. Conversion to a resin suitable for injection molding also adds cost. But it will come down as the process is scaled up, he adds. And while cost certainly is a consideration, Thomas believes it can be offset by the environmental benefits of biodegradable shotgun wads.

“The long-term goal is to position our products to compete directly with available premium field wads,” explained Thomas. “Preliminary market research indicates that, in the spirit of conservation and environmental responsibility, a strong majority of hunters are willing to pay a premium to support the initial release and further development of our products.”

The first injection molded samples of the biodegradable wads were produced this month, and are currently being assembled for another round of ballistic testing. An initial production run that will be used for further load development is planned for this summer, and samples will be distributed for public and industry review, Thomas said.

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree.


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