It is said that to make an omelet, you must first break an egg. Perhaps now, thanks to research at the University of Leicester in England, after you’ve made the omelet you can use the leftover egg shell to increase the amount of recyclable plastic.
Scientists at the university are using the proteins in egg shells, called glycosaminoglycans, which the pharmaceutical industry uses to help people with cartilage and connective tissue problems, to create a starch-based plastic, reports CNN. That material could then be used to “bulk up” existing plastics.
Currently, university researchers have mixed the extract from the egg shells into a range of plastics up to a level of 30%, but they believe that level could increase to 50%, William Wise, a post-doctoral research associate at the university’s green chemistry unit, tells FoodProductionDaily.com.
The new material could be used in multiple ways, Wise says, from food packaging to general packaging. He expects that the new compounds will be stable:
We will need to do all the safety tests on material for food packaging but we are confident at this stage that there will be no problems with them exhibiting bacterial stability and remaining sterile throughout the process.
In addition to providing sustainable material to augment plastic packaging, the innovation also could save money for companies that use large quantities of eggs. Manufacturers that pay to have egg shells taken to landfills could instead recycle the remnants for the new plastic compounds.
Source: “Scientists Hatch Plan to Recycle Egg Shells Into Plastic,” CNN, 4/4/12
Source: “Project Using Egg Shells to Make Plastic Packaging,” FoodProductionDaily.com, 4/5/12
Image by Mike Miley (H. Michael Miley), used under its Creative Commons license.
Dale McGeehon has been a journalist and editor for more than 25 years, covering chemical regulation and testing for Pesticides and Toxic Chemical News and innovations in material sciences for the National Technology Transfer Center. His writing credits include Omni and College Park magazines and The New York Times.