Plastic alternative from fish waste wins International Dyson Award

University of Sussex student Lucy Hughes had previously won the national UK prize, and has now been awarded £30,000 to develop the invention.

MarinaTex, the fish-based plastic alternative created by UK designer Lucy Hughes, has been awarded this year’s international James Dyson Award.

Hughes had previously won the awards’ UK national prize back in September, then earning her a £2,000 prize to further develop the material. With this latest achievement, MarinaTex has earned its inventor £30,000, as well as £5,000 for the University of Sussex, Hughes’ alma mater.

Then a final-year product design student, Hughes was prompted to develop MarinaTex as her final project because of the worlds’ vast overdependency on plastic. “As a resident of Earth, this problem is hugely important to me,” she says.

While pursuing this, Hughes was put in contact with MCB Seafoods, a fish processing plant and wholesaler in Newhaven. This helped kicked off what would become her prize-winning project, helping her to “value waste as a resource”.

MarinaTex’s development process consisted of over 100 prototype tests, according to Hughes. “I did [most of the tests] on the kitchen stove of my student flat,” says Hughes. “I self-taught myself the chemistry needed to create such a material and that was a challenging process of trial and error.”

The resulting material is a combination of fishing by-products that would otherwise make up part of the 172,000 tonnes of waste that end up in landfill each year. Hughes says she found potential “locked up” in fish scales and skins, which are naturally flexible and have strength-enabling proteins.

These were then bound with locally sourced agar, a jelly-like substance obtained from red algae, to produce a translucent material that can perform in much the same way traditional single-use plastic can, while also being compostable at home in four to six weeks.

The fact MarinaTex can be composted at home is timely, given public confusion on biodegradable, bio-based and compostable materials is considerable. The misinformation provided by product packaging has prompted the UK government to call for evidence in a bid to regulate claims and better inform citizens.

Though she has earned a number of accolades beyond the James Dyson Award, from the likes of John Lewis and the Sussex Design Show, Hughes says MarinaTex is still in its infancy. “The end goal is to bring the material to market and offer it as a viable alternative to single-use plastic films,” she says.

“That said, this is just one potential usage of the material, and I look forward to undertaking more research and development to see how else the product could be employed.

“I hope it will shine a light on the importance of circular principles in the design phase and will leverage the importance of taking form, function and footprint into account.”

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