Featured image for Material Highlight: MarinaTex Is A Plastic Alternative Made From Fish Waste

Material Highlight: MarinaTex Is A Plastic Alternative Made From Fish Waste

by Rudy Sanchez on 06/17/2020 | 3 Minute Read

We harvest over 160 billion pounds of fish every year, which roughly translates to about 50 pounds of fish consumed per person globally.

Unfortunately, a lot of what we catch just so happens to get wasted. In the US alone, we needlessly fritter away 2 billion pounds every year. Some of that is bycatch, meaning fish and other animals that are commercially unviable and tossed overboard, but it also happens during processing; it's usually the stuff that can’t get turned into fishmeal or the parts we don’t eat like the skin, bones, and organs. Of course, that’s not the only way we impact our waterways, as our addiction to plastic results in an estimated 8 million metric tons ending up in the ocean. 

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One intrepid product designer, however, hopes to replace some varieties of plastic with an organic and biodegradable material that comes from fish waste.

MarinaTex is a UK startup founded by Lucy Hughes, who conceived the concept as a final year project while studying at the University of Sussex. The new material is compostable, degrades in 4-6 weeks, and gets made from red algae in addition to fish scales and skin that would ordinarily be discarded by the processing plant. Unlike most plants, red algae require no fresh water, no fertilizers, and no land. Algae is also useful when it comes to absorbing carbon, and MarinaTex claims the algae they use is carbon negative.

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The start-up’s first plastic alternative is designed to replace traditional plastics such as LDPE in use cases such as cling film, packaging windows, and bags, providing a more sustainable alternative to food packaging and single-use takeaway shopping bags. Although made from the bounties of the sea, the material is odorless, and the pelagic raw material gets sourced from plants that belong to the Sustainable Seafood Coalition.

Hughes’ firm believes in creating a more circular economy, mimicking the way nature regenerates and restores by creating new life from old. MarinaTex wants to change the paradigm of most plastic items, which is much more of a linear economy, where end-of-life means floating in the ocean for centuries, sitting in a landfill, or getting burned in an incinerator.

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“Plastic is an amazing material. However, we have become too plastic happy and design only for the use of the product, which can sometimes be a fraction of the product’s overall lifespan,” Lucy Hughes said in her James Dyson Award brief after being named a 2019 international winner.

Although Hughes has created a home compostable material that can rival conventional plastic, MarinaTex is still in its infancy, with no products available as of yet. The next steps include commercialization and mass production. Thankfully, the material does not require a lot of complexity, as Hughes was able to create the plastic alternative in her kitchen.

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That Hughes was able to conceive of MarinaTex while still a student and develop the first viable prototype in her kitchen is remarkable on its own, but perhaps more astonishing is that no one flush with resources didn’t beat her to the punch. MarinaTex perhaps proves that the most significant obstruction to the development and commercialization of sustainable alternatives to plastic isn’t technology but the will to do better by the planet.

And, having some extra clams lying around doesn’t hurt either.

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