Degradable plastic from fish scales

Or: the relationship between sustainable clothing and aquaculture

Paul Vader, editor HZ Discovery

In her graduation internship for the Bachelor of Water Management, Yoni Mol developed a way to make bioplastic from the residual flows from fishing and aquaculture. What was originally intended as part of biodegradable, and thus sustainable clothing, now has so much more potential that in future Yoni wants to start a business with it. We interviewed this passionate student, who is preparing her graduation presentation in her parental home in Groningen. Honours programme Because Yoni intended to get the most out of her studies, she took part in the HZ honours programme from the second year of study. Together with two other students, she focused on the clothing industry, which she believes is the second most polluting industry after the oil sector. “We wanted to create awareness about the solutions by means of a documentary series. We spoke to interesting people about sustainable fashion in Amsterdam, London and New York. We made three episodes of one hour each, in which we explain what sustainable fashion is and what the future might look like.” Yoni created most of the documentaries herself, from the beginning to the final editing.

Sustainable fashion and aquaculture The introduction to the clothing industry was so interesting that she decided that her graduation topic should also be about sustainable fashion. As a Water Management student, it was obvious to investigate aquaculture as a supplier for the raw materials of biomaterials, in the form of fibres, pigments and binders. She created a connection that may not seem obvious, but on closer inspection makes a lot of sense. “Integrated Multitrophic aquaculture, in which different plant and animal species are cultivated together and where the waste from one group provides food for another group, is a sustainable cultivation method, but still produces residual products. The same applies to fishing, for example in the form of scales and fish skins.” Yoni developed a protocol to convert scales into bioplastic. “The scales contain collagen, which can be used as fibre. Together with five other ingredients, I turned it into a bioplastic.”

The Project Pure Nature: 100% Biobased is financed within the Interreg V program Flanders-Netherlands, the cross-border cooperation programme with financial support from the European Regional Development Fund. More info

Future plans What exactly those other ingredients are, Yoni wants to keep to herself for now as she has plans to start her own company. In the near future she wants to do more research into the quality of the plastic. Together with her internship supervisor and Marine Biobased Specialties associate professor Dorien Derksen, she is applying for a two-year grant to test the properties of the bioplastic that she has not yet studied, on such aspects as degradability, flexibility and tensile strength. “Then the plan is to start a company in sustainable clothing with my sister.” For an average student, future plans usually end here, but not for Yoni, who has the ambition to start various ventures. “The research gave me more ideas to use aquaculture for product development. I would like to get started with that.”