HIE gives backing to plastic-free food project

The Cuan Tec team are passionate about their recycled packaging project: April MacLeod, Kirsty MacIntyre, Hannah Proctor, Toby Thomas, Federico Luppi, Tracy White and Christine Jesson. Not pictured: Kevin White, Joseph Hannah and Sarah Connelly.

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Vital funding towards an Argyll-led project will help greatly towards the fight against plastic waste.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has awarded the Celtic Crustacean Collaboration, headed up by CuanTec Ltd, £268,284 to develop plastic-free food packaging material from food waste.

Working alongside the Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS) at the European Marine Science Park near Oban, CuanTec has developed a world-first method for biologically extracting a naturally occurring polymer, chitin, from waste langoustine shells and converting this to the base material for plastic-free food packaging.

Over the next three years the project is expected to lead to the creation of up to 13 new jobs in Argyll.

Dr Tracy White, head of science at CuanTec, said: ‘We’re dedicated to developing solutions to the issue that single-use plastic is creating.

‘I graduated from SAMS and I know, first-hand, the calibre of facilities and resources it offers to bio-tech businesses like ours. We’re confident we’re in the right place to make a significant contribution to this global challenge.’

The company’s process is environmentally sensitive, cost-efficient, requires less energy, and uses 95 per cent fewer chemicals than conventional processes.

The resulting packaging material has natural food preserving properties and will be home compostable. It also has the ability to keep food fresh and potentially extend shelf life.

‘Our whole team is really driven and we all have a real interest in finding alternatives to the plastics that are out there as well as finding uses for the food waste,’ added Dr White.

‘There is a definite need for this type of project. There is a massive amount of plastic out there and there has to be a range of alternatives to replace all the non necessary plastic that we use.

‘This funding will allow us to work alongside the Scottish Association of Marine Science so that we can expand our chiten, sources.’

This new project will focus on the commercial viability of the product through developing industrial scale methods of extracting and converting the polymer from the shells and other food waste sources of chitin.

It will further test the product against industry regulatory standards and end-user requirements and investigate other potential sources of the polymer.

Confirming the HIE funding, Gillian Galloway head of innovation, added: ‘This highly innovative project has the potential to help address this issue through reducing the use of plastic. It will also help cut carbon emissions from the burning of unrecycled plastic waste.

‘It is exciting to see this level of innovation being developed in Argyll and in such a collaborative fashion.’

Match-funding for the Co-Innovate programme has been provided by HIE and Scottish Enterprise in Scotland, the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation in Ireland.

Versatile Packaging in the Republic of Ireland and  Northern Ireland firm, Kilkeel Seafoods are also involved in the project.