Researchers at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom say they have discovered a way to make a new kind of decomposable and recyclable bioplastic from the thin wrappers found in eggshells.
The research team, led by Professor Andy Abbott, professor of physical chemistry and head of the Chemistry Department at the University of Leicester developed the bioplastic from extracted eggshell proteins called glycosaminoglycans. The team plans to test the new material’s mechanical properties, including resistance to chemical and physical agents, in hopes of creating a variety of useful products.
“The eggshells are classified as waste materials in the food industry but, in fact, represent a highly sophisticated compound,” said Richard Worrall, Director of Food and Drink iNet. “A good opportunity for reuse is in the packaging industry, but also in construction or as reinforcement for ready meal food trays and even as support in packaging to protect egg products — giving a second lease of life to the egg shell in the very role it was created for.”
The new bioplastic comes from common, natural materials, is fully biodegradable and recyclable and can also be used for agricultural compost, the researchers claim.
The researchers say eggshell disposal poses a significant economic problem for food companies using eggs. The thin membranes must be collected and transported to landfills, which leads to increased costs. Finding alternative uses for eggshells can generate revenue, boost competitiveness and address the threat of environmental pollution.
The research was funded with a nearly £20,000 grant by the European Regional Development Fund and the Food and Drink iNet and will be shared with the Nottingham Trent University, Lincoln University and Nottingham University.
The use of bioplastics for packaging is one of several sustainable packaging innovations being explored by companies seeking to cut back on waste and reduce their impact on the world's increasingly overburdened landfills.