Coastal communities around the world are seeing plastic everywhere on their beaches. Buried in the sand, floating in the waves and blowing across the dunes. Plastic is everywhere. This sad state of affairs prompted one entrepreneurial student to design and produce a revolutionary new product- a bioplastic made from fish waste.
Intrigued by the hidden potential of waste streams in product design, 24-year-old Lucy Hughes focused on the waste coming out of fish processing facilities. Fish processing removes fillets to be sold, and the rest of the fish is left behind as waste. Oftentimes, over half of the weight of the fish is not utilized. According to Hughes’ website, in the UK alone, 172,702 tonnes of fish waste is produced annually from processing. Rather than extracting and processing new “virgin” materials, she wanted to use material that would have otherwise been tossed. Hughes saw an opportunity in the slimy discards of the fish processing plants, and went to work creating a product that is now called ‘MarinaTex’. According to dezeen.com, the waste from a single Atlantic cod can produce 1,400 MarinaTex bags. The James Dyson Award is propelling her research forward with seed money.
MarinaTex is a plastic alternative that is biodegradable and compostable after 4 to 6 weeks. With increasing public understanding of environmental concerns, more products are being produced with a desire to be more ‘green’. Unfortunately many products masquerade as sustainable and eco-friendly with labels such as “degradable plastic”. Degradable simply means that the product will eventually break down into smaller pieces. The clever wording makes consumers feel good about a product that is no good at all. When these so-called green products find their way into the ocean, they stay in the ocean as microplastics.
MarinaTex is a compostable bioplastic that, due to its strength, flexibility and transparency, could replace anything from plastic bags to plastic wrap to straws. Compostable plastics originate from bio-based sources, and can disappear in seawater within 3 months according to one study.
Moving forward in a world saturated with plastic
For many environmentalists, one main issue with plastics lies in the “throw away” culture and the convenience of single-use valued over reusable products that are built to last. Will replacing single-use plastic products with more environmentally innocuous materials actually change the way we interact with what we buy, or will it simply continue to enable the excessive use of resources without consideration of where our products end up after we are through with them?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in the US alone, 35.4 million tons of plastic were generated in 2017. In 1960 this number was only 390,000 tons. Plastic is everywhere, and attempts to change lifestyles and habits may take longer than we have. Perhaps bioplastics can step in to quell the flow of plastic into the ocean in the meantime.