Plastic is a plague on this planet, but it doesn’t have to be. A group of Egyptian researchers is developing a kind of plastic won’t languish in landfills for hundreds of years – made with dried shrimp shells. Just six months into a two-year project, the team is already seeing some success.
Scientists at Nile University clean and chemically treat shrimp shells, then ground them up and dissolve them in a solution that dries to form plastic. The researchers have utilized chitosan, a polymer made from the compound chitin commonly found in crustacean shells, to make their clear, thin plastic prototype. They’re able to obtain the shells inexpensively, sourcing them from local supermarkets, restaurants, and fishermen at low prices. Project researcher Hani Chbib told Reuters Egypt imports some 3,500 metric tons of shrimp, and is left with 1,000 metric tons of shrimp shell waste. So the project could help alleviate waste and reduce plastic pollution.
The Egyptian researchers are collaborating with a team from Britain’s University of Nottingham, where the professor overseeing the project, Irene Samy, conducted post-doctoral research and began exploring the idea of converting shells into plastic.
Samy told Reuters, “If commercialized, this could really help us decrease our waste…and it could help us improve our food exports because the plastic has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.”
The team envisions the biodegradable plastic might be used for packaging and plastic bags. They said their technique could potentially work for large-scale industrial production, and while so far they’ve only made small samples, are working to enhance properties like durability and thermal stability so the product could be widely used. The United Kingdom side of the team plans to approach packaging manufacturers in their country.
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