Thursday, April 12, 2012

From Eggshells to Plastics

Eggshells Reborn as Plastics

bio-plastic eggshells
Photo: Flickr/Mavis
Written by Russell McLendon, Mother Nature Network
Easter is about rebirth and renewal, yet that spirit doesn’t extend to all parts of the holiday. Countless Easter eggs, for example, are produced, used and then discarded every year, whether they were laid by a hen, a rabbit or a plastic mold.

Conveniently, a new research project aims to make such ovoid overkill less wasteful, and not only on Easter. Led by scientists at the U.K.’s University of Leicester, the project is developing a way to convert eggshells into bioplastics, to be used in anything from pharmaceuticals to egg cartons — and maybe even plastic Easter eggs.

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This could be a boon for food producers, which often must pay to dispose of eggshells in landfills. That’s why the Food and Drink iNet, a U.K. food-industry group tasked with “increasing profitability through the successful exploitation of new ideas,” is funding the project. But the possibilities go well beyond that — recycled eggshells could also find a second life in biomedicine, for instance, or as filler to “bulk up” conventional plastics, potentially reducing demand for such oil-based, nonrenewable materials.

“Eggshell is classified as a waste material by the food industry, but is in fact a highly sophisticated composite,” says Richard Worrall, director of the Food and Drink iNet, in a University of Leicester press release. “This could have potential benefit on many levels, both for food manufacturers and a much wider industry.”

Bioplastics have been around for years, most notably the corn-based kind found in water bottles and plastic cutlery. But conventional plastic — which isn’t biodegradable, and typically includes toxic petrochemicals — remains far more common around the world. The U.K. alone still uses more than 5 million tons of oil-based plastics every year, according to the British Plastics Federation. The U.S. is even more prolific, generating 31 million tons of plastic waste in 2010, according to federal data.
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Scientists who specialize in “green chemistry” and sustainable materials are leading the project, which has so far received nearly £20,000 (about $31,600) from the Food and Drink iNet. Once they finalize a pre-treatment process to sterilize the eggshells, their next step will be to figure out how to extract glycosaminoglycans, or GAGs, a class of proteins in eggshells that are also used in various biomedical applications.

Home Electronics Disposal

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