We’ve hatched new ideas for tackling waste

Leicester is leading the way in improving recycling technology.

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The availability and sustainability of materials is one of the key problems for the 21st century. With oil reserves declining and mineral resources becoming scarcer, the provision of affordable materials for a growing world population with increasing consumer aspirations needs careful consideration. Chemists at the University of Leicester are tackling these needs by developing improved recycling technologies and by creating raw ingredients from renewable sources.

Each year the UK generates over 17 million tonnes of food waste but now,
thanks to our Department of Chemistry, eggshells, banana skins, orange and
even potato peels can get a new lease of life.

Our scientists in the Chemistry Department have hatched an ingenious
idea of turning eggshells into plastic egg boxes – and are investigating other ways that food waste can be put to good use, such as developing these items as ready meal food trays, food packaging, shop fittings, chairs, tiles, cosmetics – and even medicines.

Leicester is leading the way in improving the environment and recycling
technologies. Dr Will Wise, a research associate working on the project in
Chemistry, said: “In our research we found that the proteins in the eggshells are similar to those used by the pharmaceutical industry to make drugs such as anti-cancer drugs, osteoarthritis drugs and eczema drugs all the way through to developing face creams.”

“Our main research area is looking at developing environmentally friendly
starch-based plastics. We can convert waste starch into plastics, removing the need to grow additional starch containing crops. The waste starch can come from a whole range of crops including potato, tapioca, rice and corn so it doesn’t matter where in the world you are – if you have access to a starch source we can help turn that into our plastic.”

The Food and Drink iNet funded the University to research and discover innovative ways of using eggshells practically in a number of different areas to change a material previously considered a financial drain on the business to a source of income. The research identified a number of ways
to use the eggshells one of which was as fillers to ‘bulk up’ different grades of plastic, with all sorts of applications.

One of the ultimate goals is to use the eggshells in packaging to protect egg products – giving a second lease of life to the egg shell in the very role it was created for … a true case of recycling.

The research team led by Professor Andy Abbott, Professor of Physical Chemistry and head of the Chemistry Department at the University of Leicester, worked in conjunction with Philip Chatfield, director of Ashby-de-la-Zouch project management company Integrated Food Projects. The project involved a number of small and medium-sized egg-related companies in the East Midlands region such as Leicester based hard-boiled egg manufacturer Just Egg.

Just Egg uses around 1.3 million eggs every week, creating around 10 tonnesof eggshell waste. Currently the firm spends approximately £30,000 a year sending about 480 tonnes of shells to landfill for disposal.

Managing director Pankaj Pancholi said the research could bring big benefits not only to his company but to the food and drink sector as a whole. The success of the collaboration with Just Egg has led to the research project being shortlisted as a finalist for the Food and Drink
Innovation Award.

The University’s Enterprise and Business Development office secured almost
£20,000 grant towards the project from the Food and Drink iNet’s ‘Collaborate to Innovate’ funding programme, part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), to find innovative solutions to food and
drink related business issues such as recycling.

This article originally appeared in LE1 Winter 2012

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