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Turing Shrimp Shells into Shopping Bags

January 14, 2017


Bioengineers at The University of Nottingham are studying how to use shrimp shells to make biodegradable shopping bags, as an alternative to oil-based plastic and as a new food packaging material to extend product shelf life.  The research aims to identify a production route by which these degradable biopolymer materials for shopping bags and food packaging could be manufactured.  Dr. Nicola Everitt from the Faculty of Engineering is leading the research together with academics at Nile University in Egypt.  “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,” said Dr. Everitt.


Dr. Everitt said: “Use of a degradable biopolymer made of shrimp 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.”  The research is being undertaken to produce an innovative, biopolymer, nanocomposite material that is degradable, affordable and suitable for shopping bags and food packaging.


Chitosan is a man-made polymer derived from the organic compound chitin, which is extracted from shrimp shells, first using acid (to remove the calcium carbonate “backbone” of the crustacean shell) and then alkali (to produce the long molecular chains which make up the biopolymer).  The dried chitosan flakes can then be dissolved into solution and made into a polymer film by conventional processing techniques.  Chitosan was chosen because it is a promising biodegradable polymer already used in pharmaceutical packaging due to its antimicrobial, antibacterial and biocompatible properties.


The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is a truly global university with full-scale campuses in China and Malaysia.


Background Information: What is the Shrimp Processing Industry Doing with Its Surplus of Heads and Shells?


Information: Dr. Nicola Everitt, Department of Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD, United Kingdom (Phone +44-0-115-8466496, Email, Webpage


Information: Emma Lowry, Media Relations Manager, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD, United Kingdom (Phone +44-0-115-846-7156, Email


Source: The University of Nottingham.  Surf and Earth: How Prawn Shopping Bags Could Save the Planet.  Emma Lowry. January 10, 2017.

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