This alternative to single-use plastics uses a range of custom-designed machines to create a recyclable and compostable bioplastic, sourced from discarded crustacean shells.
One of these new-fangled sustainable packaging ideas include using crustacean shells, as a team of four designers from London's Royal College of Art and Imperial College are demonstrating with a project called Shellworks. Discarded seafood shells (think lobster, crab, crayfish, shrimp) are combined with vinegar to create a bioplastic that can be mixed in varying ratios and molded into various degrees of flexibility, thickness, and opacity.
The Shellworks team chose to source their material from crustacean shells, as they naturally contain chitin, a fibrous material that is also found in the cells of fungi. The team wanted to develop an alternative method of extracting chitin from shells that was cheaper and less time-consuming than conventional techniques of producing chitosan, which is a commercially available version of chitin.
To do so, the team developed five different types of machines to process the raw bioplastic material, nicknamed Shelly, Sheety, Vaccy, Dippy and Drippy. Each contraption is designed differently, to produce distinct types of packaging, such as anti-bacterial packaging, food-grade bags and plant pots that transform into fertilizer.
For instance, the Shelly machine extracts the chitin from the shells; while Sheety is a sheet-forming machine that uses heat and wind to convert the bioplastic liquid into sheets that can then be glued together. Vaccy is a steam-heated vacuum former, and Dippy is a heated dip moulder that can shape three-dimensional containers. Drippy the hydro-recycler can be utilized to recycle used packaging back into raw bioplastic liquid, which can be then formed into something else again. No chemical additives are used in the bioplastic mix, to ensure that the packaging can be composted or recycled. As the designers explain on Dezeen:
The extractor is designed to offer complete control over each parameter of the process in order to allow for further experimentation at the polymer level of the material.
By designing scalable manufacturing processes, applications tailored to the material, and eco-positive waste streams, we believe we can demonstrate how chitosan bioplastic could become a viable alternative for many of the plastic products we use today.