A CHANCE connection between Ayrshire farmer Bryce Cunningham and a Lanarkshire biotech company has sparked a quest to create the world’s first compostable single use milk bottle, using a natural biopolymer made from langoustine shells.

CuanTec, which is based at the Life Sciences hub, MediCity, near Motherwell, has already devised a revolutionary way to produce plastic food wrap from crustacean shells on an industrial scale, and scientists at the firm believe the process could now be used to make an environmentally friendly plastic milk bottle.

The firm's chief scientific officer, Dr Ryan Taylor, said: “It is a very exciting time for the business, with collaborations arising in often non-conventional ways. Our work with Mossgiel Farm came about after I spoke about what we do in a health food shop.

"A few weeks later the shop assistant spotted a post on social media from Bryce Cunningham owner of the farm. He’d been looking for two years to find an environmentally friendly, non-petroleum derived, single use milk bottle with no luck. The shop assistant suggested he contact us and we are now working with him to make a compostable milk container."

CuanTec is a 'spin-out' commercial enterprise from Strathclyde University, producing chitin, a natural biopolymer, from langoustine shells using biological fermentation rather than traditional chemical means. Already the company has used the langoustine derived product – which the firm says can also be extracted from mushrooms, other crustaceans and insects – to produce an anti-microbial, compostable food wrap that reduces spoilage and prolongs the shelf-life of fresh food.

But as with all new ideas, turning a process into an actual product costs money, which is why the firm has just launched a crowdfunding campaign to help create prototypes of products with the potential to significantly reduce society's reliance on petroleum plastics.

The fermentation process developed by CuanTec produces a sold chitin, which is the second most abundant biopolymer in the world, alongside a liquid which is rich in vitamins and protein that can be used as salmon feed. The chitin is then dried to resemble polystyrene, then made into a bread-crumb like powder, chitosan. Once mixed with other natural ingredients, the chitosan provides an alternative to plastic that is durable, flexible and even edible.

Dr Taylor said: “Recent research by the UK Government has highlighted that if an alternative is not found, the amount of plastic littering our oceans will triple within the next 10 years. Plastics are indestructible, decomposing into microplastic which gets into the food chain; our product can be composted in under 90 days. It’s even edible, so it won’t choke wildlife or get tangled around sea life.

"We believe we have a real opportunity now to make a difference if we can get the backing we need. Everyone is part of the plastic pollution problem, we all need to be part of the solution, and an easy way to do that is to donate to our crowdfunding.”

To help the company develop its biodegradable plastics, go to www.crowdfunder.co.uk/pollution-kills-cuantec-saves