Closed loop: Scientists are aiming to create egg boxes from eggshells

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Scientists working on creating plastic from eggshells

Eggshells currently classified as waste

Could provide egg boxes as example of closed-loop recycling

CNN  — 

“Go to work on an egg” was the slogan of a successful British television advert and “green chemists” from the UK are doing just that with plans to create plastics made from eggshells.

Scientists from the University of Leicester in England are experimenting with a process that extracts the proteins found in eggshells, called glycosaminoglycans, which are commonly used in the pharmaceutical industry to help people with cartilage and connective tissue problems.

The aim of the current project is to adapt the proteins to create a starch-based plastic that could then “bulk up” existing plastics and be molded into anything from shop fitting to supermarket meal trays.

The biodegradable composite material is being lined up to make egg boxes, to serve as a practical example of closed-loop recycling.

Biodegradable plastics have been used commercially for years, with corn-based plastic water bottles some of the more common and visible applications. Yet the UK still uses around 5 million tons of oil-based plastics each year, according to the British Plastics Federation.

“Eggshell is classified as a waste material by the food industry but is in fact a highly sophisticated composite,” said Richard Worrall, director of Food and Drink iNet, the consortium that awarded a grant towards the research.

“This could have potential benefit on many levels, both for food manufacturers and a much wider industry,” he said.

As well as being more environmentally-sensitive, those in the egg industry stand to save money from re-using eggshells.

Just Egg, a UK-based mayonnaise and hard-boiled egg manufacturer, uses around 1.3 million eggs every week, creating around 10 tons of eggshell waste. According to the firm, it spends approximately £30,000 ($48,000) each year sending nearly 500 tons of shells to landfills.

“It would be great if the egg shells could ultimately be recycled to be used in the plastic packaging that we use for egg products,” said Pankaj Pancholi, managing director of Just Egg.

“If I wasn’t spending the £30,000 a year on landfill costs I could employ another worker or two part-time workers, or invest that money in R&D and innovation.”