Can shellf ish help clean up our seas?
Scottish scientists create eco-friendly plastics
SCOTTISH scientists have developed a radical new alternative to plastic – made from the shells of langoustines.
Millions of tons of plastic waste are being washed into the sea every year – posing a devastating threat to marine wildlife and the ocean.
But now researchers are using the shellfish – prized in a seafood platter or eaten as scampi – to create an eco-friendly version.
Seafood industry by-products are used to make a ground-breaking bio-plastic which is completely compostable – and even edible.
The remarkable new material functions in exactly the same way as regular plastic but is easily broken down after use as food packaging. It could even be used to create solid objects such as toys and work surfaces in the future.
Dr Cait Murray-Green, who is leading the initiative, says her natural alternative could overtake the use of petrol-based plastic in the future. Dr Murray-Green said: ‘Plastic really is a luxury we can’t afford anymore. It’s a ridiculous waste of resources.
‘People are now starting to understand that we’re putting eight million tons of plastic into the ocean every year, but we depend on the marine environment to live. This is a realistic option for the future.’
Dr Murray-Green and her head scientist Dr Ryan Taylor are now collecting as many waste langoustine tails as possible from fisheries and factories to take back to their Motherwell lab.
Within their shells is the second-highest naturally occurring biopolymer in the world, chitin, which is the basis of their natural plastic. The team extract the chitin from the langoustine shell through a process of fermentation. A solid and a liquid are formed – the solid is chitin and the liquid is a vitamin and protein-rich solution that can be used to make ‘gourmet’ salmon feed. The chitin is then dried until it resembles polystyrene, before being processed to create a powder similar to breadcrumbs called chitosan. Once mixed with other natural ingredients it creates an alternative to plastic that is completely biodegradable. The bio-plastic is as durable and flexible as conventional plastic. Dr MurrayGreen said: ‘Because it’s completely compostable, you won’t find it wrapped around a turtle’s neck or choking a bird as plastics do.’
Dr Murray-Green and Dr Taylor hope to open their first brewerysized production plant by the end of next year.
With the bio-plastic’s unique antimicrobial properties, the team at CuanTec are already being asked to make special packaging that will both keep food fresh for longer and kill dangerous pathogens such as E.coli, salmonella and listeria.
While petroleum-based plastic can take up to 450 years to break down, Cuantec’s bio-plastic wrap can be completely composted in under 90 days.
Zero Waste Scotland yesterday praised the revolutionary bio-plastic project and said: ‘Any initiative that tackles items symbolic of our throwaway culture is to be welcomed.’
NO WASTE: Bio-plastic is made from seafood shells