Compostable bioplastic made of fish waste

MarinaTex, a bioplastic material made of fish waste designed by graduate student Lucy Hughes of the University of Sussex, has won the UK James Dyson Awards.

Statistics like “in 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by weight” and the 50 million tonnes of waste produced annually by the global industry urged Hughes to find an alternative for plastic packaging.

The process began at a local fish processing plant, where Hughes was to identify the waste streams to see if she could add value and keep the waste from the landfill. The waste at the plant consists of offal, blood, crustacean and shellfish exoskeletons, and fish skins and scales.

Due to their flexibility and strength enabling proteins, the fish skins and scales showed the most potential to reuse. Hughes began experimenting with organic binders from the sea including chitosan, extracted from crustaceans, and agar, made from red algae.

The experiments resulted in MarinaTex, a translucent and flexible sheet material that biodegrades naturally in 4 to 6 weeks. The material looks and feels like plastic, but has a higher tensile strength than LDPE at the same thickness. Since all ingredients come from the sea, transportation is limited, no land has to be sacrificed for crops, and no fresh water is required. And of course, it is made from waste material. In addition, the material’s production process uses temperatures below 100 degrees Celsius.

Hughes plans to gain funding for more research in mass manufacturing and patents, as well as acquisition of certifications like food grade safety.

Photos: Lucy Hughes (via James Dyson Awards)