Nature and Biodiversity

This university student created a plastic alternative out of fish waste

Product design graduate Lucy Hughes holds up a sheet of MarinaTex - an edible and compostable plastic alternative made from byproducts of the fishing industry and other natural ingredients which has won the James Dyson Award, in Brighton, Britain, October 24, 2019. Picture taken October 24, 2019. REUTERS/ Stuart McDill - RC2ZAD93VZOQ

Lucy Hughes designed the product during her final year at university. Image: REUTERS/Stuart McDill

Stuart McDill
Journalist, Reuters
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Nature and Biodiversity?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Future of the Environment is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Future of the Environment

  • MarinaTex could replace the plastic used in tissue boxes and sandwich packs
  • Student Lucy Hughes was inspired by the strength of fish scales
  • The product won the international James Dyson award
  • It biodegrades in less than six weeks and doesn't contaminate soil

A 23-year-old Briton has cooked up a compostable compound she hopes will one day replace much single-use plastic - and its main ingredient is byproducts of the fishing industry.

Lucy Hughes created MarinaTex for her final year project in product design at the University of Sussex. It’s also edible and, she says, intended as an alternative to plastic typically used in bakery bags, sandwich packs and tissue boxes.

Her project began as an investigation into ways of reducing fish waste, around 50 millions tonnes of which is produced globally each year, the United Nations estimates.

Discover

How UpLink is helping to find innovations to solve challenges like this

“It was me trying to work out how I could use that waste stream and add value to that waste,” Hughes told Reuters.

“When I felt the skins and the scales in my hands, I could see that there was potential locked up in it. It was so flexible, yet pliable and strong.”

Her subsequent research won her this year’s international James Dyson Award, funded by the eponymous British inventor whose bag-free vacuum cleaner also bears his name. She plans to use the 32,000 pounds ($41,000) of prize money to further develop the product and build a strategy for mass production.

Product design graduate Lucy Hughes holds up a sheet of MarinaTex - an edible and compostable plastic alternative made from byproducts of the fishing industry and other natural ingredients which has won the James Dyson Award, in Brighton, Britain, October 24, 2019. Picture taken October 24, 2019. REUTERS/ Stuart McDill - RC2ZAD9HQFSO
Hughes holds up a sheet of MarinaTex Image: REUTERS/ Stuart McDill

“Why do we need to have hundreds of man-made polymers when nature has so many already available?” she added.

The world produced about 242 million tons of plastic waste in 2016, according to the World Bank. The U.N. estimates some 100 million tons have been dumped in the oceans to date.

In August, tiny pieces of plastic known as microplastic were even found in ice cores drilled in the Arctic.

“It’s not necessarily plastic that’s the problem... It’s our overuse of, for example, single-use plastics that might be used for only 10 to 15 seconds before we then have to throw that away,” Hughes said.

A pastry bag, sandwich and tissue boxes on display featuring MarinaTex - an edible and compostable plastic alternative made from byproducts of the fishing industry and other natural ingredients which has won the James Dyson Award, in Brighton, Britain, October 24, 2019. Picture taken October 24, 2019. REUTERS/ Stuart McDill - RC2ZAD9MZBEH
A pastry bag, sandwich and tissue boxes all made with MarinaTex. Image: REUTERS/ Stuart McDill

To create a strong and stable compound, she added the molecules chitosan from crustaceans and agar from red algae to her scales-and-skin mixture.

Several months of subsequent testing culminated in the production of a flexible translucent sheet that forms at temperatures below 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit) and which James Dyson concluded was stronger than its plastic alternative, low-density Polyethylene.

MarinaTex also biodegrades in four to six weeks in home compost and does not contaminate soil. Alternative bioplastic Polylactic Acid (PLA), also derived from renewable resources, must be composted industrially.

“Further research and development will ensure that MarinaTex evolves further, and I hope it becomes part of a global answer to the abundance of single use plastic waste,” Dyson said.

Have you read?
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Tourism is bouncing back - but can we make travel sustainable?

Robin Pomeroy and Sophia Akram

May 23, 2024

2:00

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum