Scottish startup is planning to release milk bottles made from an antimicrobial, biodegradable plastic alternative derived from crustacean shells.
Single use plastics don’t compost. They either find their way into huge trash islands in the middle of the ocean, or break apart into microplastics that enter the food chain. While public awareness of plastic pollution is growing, the race is on to create alternatives to the tons of plastic packaging produced every year.
Following on from our recent coverage of an edible straw made from seaweed, we’ve found another example of technology turning to biology for inspiration. CuanTec, affiliated with Strathclyde University in Scotland, has developed a clean process of extracting chitin from crustacean shells. Chitin is an abundant polymer in the natural world, but extracting it normally requires the use of harsh chemicals such as hydrochloric acid that produce harmful byproducts. CuanTec instead uses a clean process whereby the shells are broken down by bacteria. This chitin is then turned into chitosan which can be used to produce a plastic-like material. The bioplastic has the added benefit of being rich in antibacterial molecules. This gives the bioplastic an advantage over plastic food packaging; it could keep food fresher for longer by preventing the growth of bacteria responsible for food spoilage.
So far, CuanTec has used their process to develop food wrap packaging for seafood. (Seeing as the Langoustines crustaceans whose shells are used for the process are waste from the industry, the process closes a wasteless loop.) Crucially, CuanTec’s food wrap is clear, whereas other bioplastics produce an off-putting yellow color. CuanTec recently reached a crowdfunding goal to make several product prototypes, including the world’s first bioplastic milk bottle, which will be developed in collaboration with Mossgiel Farm.
As well as the production of affordable plastic alternatives, we’ve also seen projects aimed at repurposing old plastic into desirable products such as kitchenware and the introduction of zero-waste grocery stores. How else can we tackle the plastic problem in the food packaging industry?