Biodegradable Material Made Out of Fish Waste Could Replace Single-Use Plastic

A University of Sussex student created a new material that is strong and flexible and decomposes in less than six weeks.
Donna Fuscaldo

Plastic single-use products are getting a green overhaul thanks to MarinaTex, a compostable compound that's edible. 

Developed by Lucy Hughes as a final project as a University of Sussex product design student and the winner of this year's James Dyson Award, the compound is made out of fish guts, skins and scales. A byproduct of Hughes's work to reduce the 50 million tonnes of fish waste produced each year in the UK, she found a way to turn it into a new material. 


Fish skins and scales are strong and flexible 

The waste caused from fishing in the UK is massive, comprised of offal, blood, crustacean, exoskeletons and fish skins and scales. Through her research, Hughes discovered the fish skins and scales were flexible and strong. That prompted her to locate an organic binder, choosing agar, to create an organic material.  It reportedly took more than 100 experiments to finally develop MarinaFlex.

The material is flexible and translucent, ideal for replacing plastic for single-use packaging. MarinaTex requires little in the way of energy to make with temperatures under 100 degrees required to produce the material. It biodegrades in four to six weeks. A big plus, no toxins are left, which means there doesn't need to be a waste management infrastructure in place. That's not the case for plastic.  Dyson said the material was "stronger, safer and much more sustainable than its oil-based counterpart." 

"As MarinaTex uses byproducts from the fishing industry, this helps to close the loop of an existing waste stream for a more circular product lifespan," the Dyson said when announcing MarinaTex as a winner. "According to Lucy, one Atlantic cod could generate as much organic waste as is needed for making 1,400 bags of MarinaTex.

Award winnings go to mass-produce MarinaTex 

The 23-year-old UK student earned herself $41,000 through the James Dyson Award, which she plans to use to develop MarinaTex and begin work toward mass-producing it.

 “Plastic is an amazing material but we’re too reliant on it as designers and engineers. It makes no sense to me that we’re using plastic, an incredibly durable material, for products that have a life-cycle of less than a day," Hughes said in the James Dyson Award announcement.

"For me, MarinaTex represents a real commitment to innovating plastic use and incorporating sustainable, local and circular values into product design. As engineers, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to designing to form and function, but rather form, function and footprint.”

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