How Lobster Shells Can Solve the Plastic Problem

What do shellfish and plastic bags have in common? Not much, and that's why these scientists would prefer bags made out of lobster shells to help save the environment.

How Lobster Shells Can Solve the Plastic Problem

Can leftover shellfish help combat the global plastic crisis? Some scientists seem to think so.
Amir Afshar - Co-founder of Shellworks tell us “Within crustacean shells there's a really valuable bio-polymer called chitin. So, we sought to extract this chitin from the shells and see whether we could find an alternative to single use plastics for environmental consumer goods."

Shellworks’ method relies on extracting chitin from lobster shells —a fibrous and flexible substance. It is the second most common bio-polymer in the world. Chitin, exists within nanofibers, so they’re wrapped within a layer of proteins and minerals within the shell. And chitin is something that exists within all crustacean shells, and all insect shells and fungi. Each year, 500 billion disposable plastic bags are used worldwide.8 million tons leak into the ocean annually according to Reuters. Shellworks’ process could create millions of totally biodegradable chitin-based bags per year.

“We take lobster shells; we crush them up and then we use an acid and alkali solution to strip away mineral and protein layers to get the chitin nanofibers. We can then add that chitosan powder to household vinegar and that gives us a bioplastics solution. It’s a nonpolluting fertilizer, so even if you had a bag at home you could just chop it up thrown into a plant pots and it would just help them grow.”

Insiya Jafferjee offers a solution by concluding, “we've been trying to understand how we could scale this. And we reached out to one lobster chain within London and what we found is they actually have 375 tonnes of lobsters going to waste every year; which means chitin content-wise, that's 125,000 kilograms. And from that every year we could make about 7.5 million plastic bags.”

The ecological implications of their project could be global, inspiring and changing the world.