MarinaTex, an organic and biodegradable alternative to traditional plastic made from fish waste, MarinaTex, has won the UK James Dyson Award2019. This year’s winner is 23-year-old Lucy Hughes from the University of Sussex.

The James Dyson Award comes from the James Dyson Foundation, a charity supported by Dyson Ltd. The UK is estimated to use five million tonnes of plastic every year, nearly half of which is packaging. The country also produces 492,020 tonnes of fish waste annually. MarinaTex, a new form of bioplastic, aims to tackle these issues.

MarinaTex is a bioplastic made of organic fish waste ordinarily destined for landfill or incineration and locally sourced red algae. It is a translucent and flexible sheet material, making it ideal for applications in single-use packaging. While it may look and feel like plastic, its similarities end there. It is stronger, safer, and much more sustainable than its oil-based counterpart, thanks to a unique formula of red algae to bind the proteins extracted from fish waste.

MarinaTex has strong overlapping bonds giving it strength and flexibility, while the material is relatively resource-light, requiring little energy and temperatures, under 100 degrees, to produce. It biodegrades after four to six weeks, is suitable for home composting, and does not leach toxins, removing the need for its national waste management infrastructure.

As MarinaTex uses byproducts from the fishing industry, this helps to close the loop of an existing waste stream for a more circular product lifespan. According to Lucy, one Atlantic cod could generate as much organic waste as is needed for making 1,400 bags of MarinaTex.

Lucy says: “Plastic is an amazing material, but we’re too reliant on it as designers and engineers. It makes no sense to me that we’re using plastic, an incredibly durable material, for products that have a lifecycle of less than a day. MarinaTex represents a real commitment to innovating plastic use and incorporating sustainable, local, and circular values into product design. As engineers, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to designing to form and function, but rather form, function, and footprint.”

As the national winner of the James Dyson Award, Lucy will receive £2,000 as well as moving on to the international round of the competition, for a chance to win £30,000. Lucy aims to commercialize her invention sustainably, using her award money for further research into how MarinaTex can become a global answer to the abundance of plastic waste while still harnessing local solutions.