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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Egypt aims to turn shrimp plastic into a money-maker

The project is looking to turn crustacean shells, which are normally thrown away, into an eco-friendly plastic that could improve the country's food exports.
Researcher Marwa Faisal is part of the Egyptian team that has created biodegradable plastic from shrimp shells. Mohamed Zaki / Reuters
Researcher Marwa Faisal is part of the Egyptian team that has created biodegradable plastic from shrimp shells. Mohamed Zaki / Reuters

Researchers at Egypt’s Nile University are developing a way to turn shrimp shells into thin films of biodegradable plastic, with the aim of taking the process into large-scale industrial production.

Six months into their two-year project, the research team has managed to create a thin, clear prototype using chitosan, a material found in the shells of many crustaceans.

“If commercialised, 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,” said Irene Samy, a professor overseeing the project.

The researchers buy unwanted shrimp shells from restaurants, supermarkets and local fishermen at cheap prices.

Using shrimp shells is more sustainable because it could replace synthetic materials used in plastics and cut the amount of biowaste produced by the Egyptian food industry, Ms Samy said.

The project mirrors a similar effort by researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute who have developed a fully degradable bioplastic from shrimp shells and formed a laminate with silk fibroin protein that mimics the microarchitecture of natural insect cuticle.

“Shrilk”, as it has been named, also may be useful for creating implantable foams, films and scaffolds for surgical closure, wound healing, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine applications, the researchers said.

In Egypt the shells are cleaned, chemically treated, ground and dissolved into a solution that dries into thin films of plastic, a technique the team says has potential for large-scale industrial production.

“Egypt imports around 3,500 tonnes of shrimp, which produce 1,000 tonnes of shells as waste … Instead of throwing the shells away, we can make biodegradable plastic bags,” said Hani Chbib, a researcher on the project.

The project is a collaboration between the Nile University and the University of Nottingham in Britain. The team has only produced small samples and the project is not yet ready to go into commercial production.

* Agencies

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