CAIRO (REUTERS) - Researchers at Egypt's Nile University are developing a way to turn dried shrimp shells that would otherwise be thrown away into thin films of biodegradable plastic. They hope the eco-friendly plastic will be used to make grocery bags and packaging.
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.
The researchers buy unwanted shrimp shells from restaurants, supermarkets and local fishermen at cheap prices.
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.
The project is a collaboration between the Nile University team of four and another research group from Britain's University of Nottingham.
The team has only produced small samples and the project is not yet ready to go into commercial production but they are working hard to develop properties that would allow the material to go into widespread use.
The University of Nottingham says this type of 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.
For now, the challenge of the research is to identify a production route by which these degradable biopolymer materials for shopping bags and food packaging could be manufactured.