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Reducing plastic waste with food waste (and vice versa)

Everyone is aware of the extreme plastic problem facing our world today. Landfills are overflowing and as a consequence, it is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish.

In Europe and the UK, countless efforts are being put into tackling this ever-growing problem. We have seen the introduction of the 10p tax on bags for life in order to encourage reuse, plastic straws are on the way out and the market for reusable water bottles is booming. Despite these great efforts and more, it is not always feasible to reuse plastic in certain situations.

plastic
 

#ProtectOurPlanet

In May of this year, there was a debate in the House of Commons where the output was ‘A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment’ and within this, one of the key goals is to achieve zero avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042. This, together with various media campaigns such as that from national treasure David Attenborough, is putting pressure on industries to find sustainable solutions.

At the Energy, engineering and environment workshop, reducing plastic waste was an underlying theme that many participants were aiming to tackle, myself included. Therefore, we were thrilled when we found out that Dr Cait Murray-Green was one of the keynote speakers invited to talk about her company CuanTec.

 

Green chemistry

CuanTec are a company dedicated to finding solutions to two of the greatest challenges facing today’s world: plastic pollution and food waste.

Their novel processes takes langoustine shells, a waste product in fisheries, and ferment it to extract chitin, a polymer which can be moulded into plastic.

One of the extra benefits of this technology is the anti-microbial properties, thus making it an ideal material for food packaging. Of course the main benefit is that this plastic is compostable providing a novel alternative to current cling film.

Zero-waste

CuanTec
 

Networking

I entered the competition with my friend and colleague Niamh McCallum (University of Liverpool) and two people she met through a conference ran by the BBSRC, Bethany Gollan (University of Newcastle) and Daniel Bruce (University of Durham).

We had noticed that despite the pressure on most industry sectors to find sustainable solutions to the plastic problem, there is no accountability in the research sector.

Bethany Gollan, Dan Bruce, Claudia Fryer and Niamh McCallum of LactoLab
Left to right: Bethany Gollan, Daniel Bruce,
Claudia Fryer (blog author) and Niamh McCallum
 
 

Problem

Collectively, we work across different biological and chemical labs were the use of sterile plastic lab consumables is essential in order to prevent contamination. Depending on the experiment, we could go through hundreds of pipette tips, centrifuge tubes and tissue culture dishes a week and all of this plastic is sterilised and put into landfill. Thus we had recognised a niche market that is set to expand as more and more pressure is put on companies to reduce plastic.

Solution

Our solution was to create plastic lab consumables made mostly from casein, a component of milk. Up to 300,000 tonnes of milk is wasted every year so being able to use this would also help to lower food waste. Our company is ‘LactoLab: Sustainable, Single-Use Solutions’ and we were thrilled to be one of the winners in the Energy, engineering and environment workshop of YES. We are very excited to develop our business plan more for the UK final at the Royal Society in December!
 

Young Entrepreneurs Scheme

  • Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • Nottingham University Business School
  • Jubilee Campus
  • Nottingham, NG8 1BB