Bio-Based World News is always keen to report the industry’s latest sustainable packaging solutions, this is the most innovative development making news in the bio-based space. Bioengineers at The University of Nottingham have been trialling how to use shrimp shells to make biodegradable shopping bags. This will be a green alternative to oil-based plastic and become a new food packaging material to extend a product's shelf life. The new material is hoped to be optimised by Egypt because their waste management is one of the country’s biggest challenges. Bio-based plastic made from plants are not a feasible option for Egypt with increased competition for food crops. However, prawn shells are a more viable option to turn their waste management problem into a sustainable solution. Dr Nicola Everitt from the Faculty of Engineering at Nottingham has proposed that if the idea is a success in this region then there is the possibility to approach UK packaging manufacturers with the new product.
In Egypt, food is one of the biggest waste disposal problems. It is normal to see food rubbish mount up in illegal dump sites down the street. Now the country will be able to clean up their streets whilst cleaning up their poor sustainability efforts. The environmentally friendly bags are also biodegradable and greener than plastic which is made from oil and takes more energy to manufacture.
“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,” explains Dr Everitt.
The research is being carried out to produce an innovative biopolymer nanocomposite material which is degradable, affordable and suitable for shopping bags and food packaging. Chitosan is a man-made polymer derived from the organic compound chitin, which is extracted from shrimp shells, first using acid (to remove the calcium carbonate “backbone” of the crustacean shell) and then alkali (to produce the long molecular chains which make up the biopolymer). The dried chitosan flakes can then be dissolved into solution and polymer film made by conventional processing techniques. Chitosan was chosen because it is a promising biodegradable polymer already used in pharmaceutical packaging due to its antimicrobial, antibacterial and biocompatible properties. The second strand of the project is to develop an active polymer film that absorbs oxygen.
Dr Everitt also said: “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.”
Additionally, this future generation food packaging could have the ability to enhance food shelf life with high efficiency and low energy consumption, making a positive impact on food wastage in many countries.
The project is sponsored by the Newton Fund and the Newton-Mosharafa Fund grant and is one of 13 Newton-funded collaborations for The University of Nottingham. The collaborations are designed to tackle community issues through science and innovation, with links formed with countries such as Brazil, Egypt, Philippines and Indonesia. Since the Newton Fund was established in 2014, the University has been awarded a total of £4.5m in funding.
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