What is Shell plastic?
Shellworks, a British company, is making compostable bioplastic materials from seafood waste. A substance called ‘chitin’ is extracted from the crustacean shells which are transformed into biodegradable and reusable planters and packages.
Shell plastic bags, tablet packaging, candlelight holders, wallets, and more, can be produced with this material. The most attractive feature is that the entire model is built on using only waste!
The seafood shells from which this bioplastic is made, are procured from the seafood waste generated in restaurants. 6 to 8 million metric tons of shrimp, crab, and lobster shell waste gets generated by the food industry every year.
How is plastic made from shells?
From the procured waste shells, a form of chitin called chitosan is extracted. In the processing stage, it is treated with vinegar after which it starts to take up different colors and shapes.
It is then converted into sheet form or the various product shapes. Check out the detailed process in the three-minute video on The Shellworks Youtube channel.
What are the main features of Shell plastic?
Shell plastic is 100% environmentally friendly since it is made from seafood waste and reduces plastic consumption. The products are also easy to dispose of as they are compostable and degrade in marine, soil, as well as home environments.
Because of the versatility of Shell plastic, it is customizable and can be made into a variety of products. Shellworks has developed recipes to control the appearance, mechanical properties, and barrier performance of the products.
A variety of material properties can be achieved without using additives in shell plastic and a series of custom products for clients have already been made.
How is it eco-friendly?
All Shellworks products are home compostable. You can either plant them in your garden or add them to your food waste and they will break down in 8-12 months.
Once you plant the material in the ground, they start to degrade in 4-6 weeks. As chitosan is rich in nitrogen, it also acts as a natural fertilizer for the plant when it breaks down.
If you don’t have a garden, you can also throw it away in a trash bin. Wherever it ends up, it is guaranteed to not cause any harm. Some scraps that may have been produced as a by-product of manufacturing can also be hydro recycled infinitely.
Scaling up Shellworks plastic
A crustacean shell contains 15 to 40% chitin but pulling it out requires corrosive chemicals. Approaches that reduce or eliminate corrosive reagents, recycle water, and keep the polymers strong are what scientists are now striving to find.
Chitin is the world’s second most abundant biopolymer. In addition to 6 to 8 million tonnes of crustacean waste produced each year, chitin is found in insect shells and the walls of fungi. These alternate sources are being looked into for scaling up their operations.