Shrimp: The Next Step in Eco-Bagging Technology?

It doesn’t seem as though many years have passed since people used single-use plastic bags almost exclusively while shopping, but those days are thankfully over. Thanks to burgeoning environmental awareness and several government initiatives, we’ve seen a whole range of more eco-friendly bagging options available in shops all across the country, with materials including canvas, cotton, jute, polypropylene, and good old-fashioned paper.

In general, shoppers have been more than happy to opt for longer-lasting environmentally-friendly bags instead of the old single-use plastic ones, and there are now more alternative materials on the horizon.

In fact, we might soon find ourselves carrying around shopping bags that have been produced using shrimp. Few people would disagree that the idea seems slightly ludicrous, but there’s plenty of method behind the madness.

Led by Dr Nicola Everitt from the Faculty of Engineering, a team of bioengineers at the University of Nottingham have been investigating whether shrimp shells can be used to create packaging that would act as an alternative to oil-based plastics.

Everitt was prompted to look at such an unlikely source by the immense pollution problems faced by the nation of Egypt. With materials such as cotton unable to compete with land crops for fertile land, it only made sense to look to other areas for a solution.

As noted by Everitt herself: “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.”

Researches are looking into methods of cheaply and effectively deriving a polymer from an organic compound known as chitin, which is itself a derivative of the glucose found in abundance within the shells of shrimp, as well as those of crabs and lobster. The man-made material, chitosan, would be antimicrobial, antibacterial, biocompatible, and biodegradable, with further research indicating that a biodegradable polymer could be created that absorbs oxygen – such a step would help prolong the shelf-life of packaged foods.

It’s always fun to see where new consumer needs will take the bagging market, and we can’t wait to find out how Everitt’s shrimp-based solution might pan out in the future.