The future of bioplastic

By Ashini K Ekanayake

Lucy Hughes from the University of Sussex has designed a single-used plastic whose base material consists of fish waste. This product has landed her this year's UK James Dyson Award. The name of the product is MarinaTex, and it is made from fish scales and skin- which would normally be tossed to a landfill or incinerated without consideration of potential further uses. MarinaTex is flexible and translucent, which makes it the perfect material in the production of single-use packaging such as sandwich wrappers. The most striking feature of this new innovation is that  it will break down in home composts or food-waste bins within four to six weeks. 

The MarinaTex was developed as a final-year project for the product design course at her University , and her main aim was to create something which has a positive impact on the environment. Hughes stated that she felt disinclined from using virgin natural materials, and wanted to challenge herself by starting with a waste stream instead. She feels that the best design is one which is able to bridge the gap between businesses and the planet. As compared to currently available bioplastic, Hughes’ iteration does not require a separate waster collection infrastructure for its disposal. The biodegradable material also requires minimal energy to produce, and since it is based on waste, the earth’s resources are not strained.

Based on statistics generated by the UK Sea Fish Industry Authority, it is calculated that the United Kingdom produces approximately 500,000 tonnes of waste annually via the processing of fish by removing their scales and skin, among other viscera. Hughes has also added that based on research, the waste from just one Atlantic cod is enough to produce 1,400 MarinaTex bags. Whereas, when searching for an organic binding agent in order to create a prototype for her sheet, Hughes relied on Agar found on the local coastline of Sussex, which was a gel-like substance derived from the cell walls of some species of red algae.

The final iteration of the MarinaTex stems from over a hundred experiments in order to fully refine the biodegradable material, and these experiments all occurred within her accommodation’s kitchen. The material is stronger and boasts a higher tensile strength than LDPE (low-density polyethylene), which is currently the most common material for plastic bags. Hence showing that an environmentally sustainable product does not necessarily need to sacrifice quality.