Biodegradable plastic derived from shrimp shells could reduce waste in Egypt, where waste management is one of the country’s biggest challenges.
Research conducted jointly by the University of Nottingham and Nile University focuses on shrimp shells as a source, rather than plant materials, to avoid competing with food crops. The goal is to provide Egypt with an in-country means for producing the plastic that can be used to manufacture shopping bags and food packaging.
The researchers produced chitosan, a manmade polymer derived from the organic compound chitin, which is extracted from shrimp shells. Chitosan is currently used in pharmaceutical processing because it is antimicrobial, antibacterial, and biocompatible.
The process uses acid to remove the shell’s backbone and then an alkali to polymerize the solution. Dried chitosan flakes can be dissolved and used as an input for manufacturing plastic film using conventional processing techniques.
Another phase of the research project is focused on developing an active polymer film that absorbs oxygen, a feature that would extend food shelf life and reduce an additional source of waste.