Egg shell recycling
Recycling egg shells that are currently regarded as waste by the food sector and turning them into fillers for plastics and extracting proteins from the shells for use in the pharmaceutical industry.This is a Collaborate to Innovate project involving the Food and Drink iNet, the University of Leicester, Integrated Food Projects and a number of egg-related companies in the East Midlands.
Egg shell is classified as a waste material by the food industry. Firms have to pay to dispose of the shells in landfill sites, costing thousands of pounds every year. One Leicester firm, Just Egg, alone uses around 1.3 million eggs every week, creating around 10 tonnes of egg shells. Currently the firm spends approximately £30,000 a year sending about 480 tonnes of shells to landfill for disposal. It’s a challenge faced by many companies in the food sector who use eggs.However, egg shell is in fact a highly sophisticated composite, featuring mainly calcium carbonate and proteins.
Food and Drink iNet support
The Food and Drink iNet has funded a Collaborate to Innovate project involving scientists in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Leicester, Ashby de la Zouch project management company Integrated Food Projects, and a number of small and medium-sized egg-related companies in the East Midlands region. The project is looking to extract glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), proteins which are found in egg shells. GAGs are used in numerous biomedical applications and could prove useful in the pharmaceutical industry.
The researchers, who specialise in ‘green chemistry’ and sustainable materials, are also hoping to identify ways to use the egg shells as fillers which could be used to ‘bulk up’ different grades of plastic, with all sorts of applications from ready meal food trays to shop fittings.
The team is currently working to turn egg shells into plastics that could be used to manufacture anything from food packaging to construction materials. They are also researching ways of extracting the proteins for use in the pharmaceutical industry. One of the ultimate goals is to use the egg shells in packaging to protect egg products – giving a second lease of life to the egg shell in the very role it was created for, as nature intended …. a true case of recycling.
If the proteins and calcium carbonate can be extracted and re-used, the egg shells could provide new revenue streams for food sector firms, rather than act as a drain on resources. It would also be beneficial to the wider community and other industries, in terms of sustainability. News of the research has created media interest around the world.
Professor Andy Abbott, professor of physical chemistry and head of the Chemistry Department at the University of Leicester, said:
“We specialise in researching and developing innovative manufacturing solutions around recycling technology. This project is focused on researching novel methodologies for recovering and re using a waste stream into a sustainable financially viable material supply locally. The R&D funding from the Food and Drink iNet is very timely and very gratefully received.”