Shrimp Shell Plastic Could Help Address Egypt’s Trash Problem

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In the United Kingdom, University of Nottingham engineering professor Nicola Everitt is turning discarded shrimp shells into biodegradable plastic bags.

Everitt is specifically targeting the Egyptian market, as the country has a large quantity of shrimp shell waste but lacks effective waste disposal systems. In fact, only about 60% of the nation’s garbage is collected, she says.

“It occurred to me that we could use Chitosan extracted from shrimp shells and make biodegradable packaging,” Everitt told The Week. “So at least if it was lying around at the side of the road it would eventually degrade.”

The shells are first boiled in acid to remove calcium carbonate, and then are boiled in an alkaline substance to remove protein. The remaining material—chitosan—is a natural polymer.

Everitt received a Newton grant for the project, and has also teamed up with Nile University scientists to evaluate the process’s feasibility. They have found that 15 shopping bags can be produced from about 2 pounds of shrimp waste. The team is currently working on cutting down process time.