We are excited to hear that more and more green alternatives to plastic bags are being developed, but this alternative takes the cake. Furthermore, it might help keep the oceans we love surfing in clean. The bioengineers from the University of Nottingham are making biodegradable plastic shopping bags and packaging material from shrimp shells. This might actually be the best alternative, not just for the environment, but also for the food that will be packed in it, as a means to extend the shelf life of the products.
Dr. Nicola Everitt (Faculty of Engineering at Nottingham) is testing the new material alongside researchers from the Nile University in Egypt, a country whose environmental issues include waste management.
Dr. Everitt stated that "Non-degradable plastic packaging is causing environmental and public health problems in Egypt, including contamination of water supplies which particularly affects living conditions of the poor. […] Use of a degradable biopolymer made of prawn shells for carrier bags would lead to lower carbon emissions and reduce food and packaging waste accumulating in the streets or at illegal dump sites. It could also make exports more acceptable to a foreign market within a 10-15-year time frame. All priorities at a national level in Egypt”
It all started with a problem: the shrimp shells were creating so much waste, that it had become an issue. But if you extract the chitin from the shrimp shells by using acid and an alkali solution and then make it into a polymer called chitosan, you could have a biodegradable polymer that is already used today in pharmaceutical packaging. This way, you solve one of the country’s biggest waste issues and also create a wonderful material that has unlimited potential.
What is absolutely stunning about this new material made from prawn shells is that it can actually extend the food shelf life, while having little to no impact on the environment. Of course, extending the shelf life of food also improves the massive food wastage that many countries have been dealing with.
Once the trials are over, Dr. Everitt aims to bring the material back to the UK with him, in hopes to find a manufacturer that will bring it to the masses.
This material wouldn’t have been discovered had it not been for the Newton Fund and the Newton-Mosharafa Fund grant. The Newton Fund came to life in 2014 and ever since, it has funded projects much like this one, aimed at solving various issues that communities face. A whopping £4.5 million has gone into innovations that might, one day, save our planet and ourselves.
We hope that discoveries such as these keep on being made so that our oceans stand a chance against pollution!
Do you love the ocean as much as we do? How about you book yourself a surf camp in Egypt and maybe get a glimpse of the prawn that make this material?