Comment: Harnessing the ocean to create food packaging

Renowned for being one of ­Scotland’s premier seafood products, langoustines ­normally take pride of place on a fish ­platter in many seafood restaurants across the country.

I am passionate about creating a natural alternative to petroleum-based plastics, says Murray-Green.

The popular menu item is now making waves, as chitin from langoustine shells and other seafood waste can be processed to make sustainable food packaging – providing a natural alternative to petroleum-based plastics that are polluting our seas and damaging to our environment.

The inspiration for CuanTec comes from wanting to find a better use for the many tons of seafood waste disposed of in ­Scotland each year. Cuan is Gaelic for ocean, and I am passionate about creating a natural alternative to petroleum-based plastics. CuanTec has created a new process to put the waste from the fisheries to good use. The new packaging can be composted and will not end up in landfill. It also increases the shelf life of food. The technology represents the perfect virtuous circle. As well as protecting food on sale to customers, it gives value to what would have been a waste product, and takes single-use plastic out of the food system, meaning less waste goes into landfill.

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Earlier this year we entered into a partnership with Waitrose & Partners, which hopes to use our bio-plastic as an alternative to conventional plastic film on some of its fish products in the near future, allowing their packaging to be home compostable.

Our flexible film for food packaging is created by extracting chitin, a naturally occurring biopolymer (a protein-like substance occurring in living organisms) from the bits of the shellfish people don’t want to eat and, in the future, from other food waste sources. Chitin is the second-most abundant natural polymer in the world – it is all around us and is a fabulous sustainable resource.

Using a clean, energy-efficient fermentation method, we convert chitin into chitosan. There are more than 3,000 applications around the world, including in medical applications to treat things such as obesity, high cholesterol, and Crohn’s disease.

CuanTec is the first company to use chitosan in an antimicrobial, compostable bio-plastic, which directly addresses the problems we have with plastic pollution.

CuanTec started two and a half years ago as a great idea. We have since grown from three people in one lab in BioCity in Glasgow to a team of 14 with an additional lab facility at the European Centre for Marine Biotechnology in Oban. We are a member company of Industrial Biology Innovation Centre, an organisation set up to stimulate growth in the Industrial Biotechnology (IB) sector. The organisation has provided us with access to a wide range of resources and groups of like-minded professionals, which has been hugely beneficial to us as a start-up business.

It is exciting to be part of Scotland’s IB ­sector, as it makes an important contribution to the Scottish economy, while also reducing our impact on the environment.

The growth of IB will help Scotland transition from being an economy largely based on fossil fuels to a more modern, cleaner model, fit for the future.

In terms of the business itself, we have grown from a small-scale research operation to large-lab production and look forward to operating a full production facility very soon from the European Centre for Marine ­Biotechnology in Oban.

We are a very ambitious company and plan to eventually take our products worldwide to transform the packaging industry on a global scale. We soon hope to be producing large scale bio-plastic at a volume that could make a real difference. Plastic really is a luxury we can’t afford anymore – it’s a ridiculous waste of resources and CuanTec wants to take its place in making plastic pollution history.

Cait Murray-Green, chief executive of Scottish blue biotechnology company CuanTec.