The whole world has a trash problem, but the issue is particularly pressing in Egypt, where scientists are trying to develop better biodegradable plastics. Their most promising solution, so far, is a polymer derived from shrimp shells.
"Non-degradable plastic packaging is causing environmental and public health problems in Egypt, including contamination of water supplies which particularly affects living conditions of the poor," Nicola Everitt, a bioengineer from the University of Nottingham, explained in a news release.
Everitt is leading a group of researchers from Nottingham and Nile University in the effort to synthesize a biopolymer nanocomposite material suitable for the production of affordable biodegradable plastic.
Everitt and her colleagues are currently testing a polymer derived from the organic compound chitin, a derivative of glucose found in the shells of shrimp, crabs and lobsters. The manmade polymer is called chitosan.
The research team developed the polymer by dissolving chitosan flakes -- derived from shrimp shells -- in a solution before a plastic film is deposited using traditional polymer processing techniques. The polymer is biodegradable and has antimicrobial, antibacterial and biocompatible properties.
"Use of a degradable biopolymer made of prawn shells for carrier bags would lead to lower carbon emissions and reduce food and packaging waste accumulating in the streets or at illegal dump sites," Everitt said.
The scientists are now working on developing a biodegradable polymer that absorbs oxygen, a quality that could prolong the shelf life of packaged foods.