The Shellworks' project turns seafood waste into bioplastic

Compostable Bioplastic Made From Discarded Lobster Shells

The Shellworks is a project created by four designers from the London’s Royal College of Art and Imperial College aiming to replace single-use plastic.

The team developed five custom made machines which are able to transform sea food waste into home-compostable’s items degradable in 4 to 6 weeks.

The process starts in London’s sea food restaurants where the discarded crustacean shells are collected. This waste is then crushed, mixed with an acid and alkali solution and placed into ‘Shelly’, a small scale extractor that enables to turn the shell solution into chitosan.

Chtiosan is a biopolymer derive from chitin, the world’s most abundant natural polymer after cellulose. It is naturally found in the exoskeleton of arthropods and the cell walls of fungi. Its characteristics, from being easily recyclable, biocompatible, antibacterial to anti-fungal, make this biopolymer suitable to be turned into a plastic like material. 

Image credit: The Shellworks.

After chitosan has been extracted it is then mixed with household vinegar to create an easily mouldable bioplastic. To shape this solution the designers have developed four different machines able to create objects with different stiffness, flexibility, thickness and translucence.

‘Sheety’ is a controlled environment that uses heat and wind to transform bioplastic solution into flat films of different colours and thicknesses.  

‘Vaccy’ is a machine that uses steam and a vacuum to form the bioplastic sheets into moulded packaging.

‘Dippy’ is a heated dip modular forming 3D vessels like cups and containers. 

‘Drippy’ is a hydro-recycler machine able to turn back the finished product into the original bioplastic liquid form. This solution can be used again to make new objects or poured into soil as a natural fertiliser as no additives are used during the transformation process.

Prototypes have ranged from different types of packaging, such as anti-bacterial packaging and food-grade bags to self-fertilising plant pots.

All images courtesy of The Shellworks.

2 years ago