Shrimp Shells Are Being Turned Into Plastic In Egypt

The realization that some of our widely-used natural resources are not as unlimited as we used to think is pushing scientists and technologists all over the world to discover new options.

In Egypt for instance, researchers have discovered a way to turn dry shrimp shells into biodegradable plastic.

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Researchers at the Nile University in Egypt and the University of Nottingham in Britain have been able to create thin films of plastic from dried shrimp shells just six months into their two-year project. The invention is based on chitosan -a linear polysaccharide found in the shells of shrimps and other sea crustaceans.

The researchers hope that with this invention they could make eco-friendly plastic bags. Plastic bags currently pose a great environmental and health problem, which is leading many countries to ban the use of them.

However, they serve an important purpose in everyday life and for this reason, many are seeking alternatives, biodegradable and eco-friendly alternatives to plastic bags.

“If commercialized, 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,” Irene Samy, a professor overseeing the project, told Reuters.

The shrimp shells are usually bought from restaurants, grocery stores, and fishermen at cheap prices. The shells are cleaned, treated with a chemical, ground and lastly dissolved in a solution which causes the shells to be turned into dried thin films of biodegradable plastic.

The shrimp shells are commonly discarded as waste, hence turning this “waste product” into something useful is a win-win.

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“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,” Hani Chbib, a researcher on the project, told Reuters.

The researchers have only created a prototype. The shrimp plastic has to undergo more procedures to ensure it is ready for commercial production.