Every year, up to eight million tonnes of waste seafood shells are thrown into landfill or back into the ocean/on beaches. This is because within seafood and aquaculture industries they are seen as a ‘nuisance waste’. Not only is this expensive, and ecologically damaging, it is a waste of an otherwise useful material which can be used to make environmentally friendly materials. 

Some shells are recycled or used as fertiliser, but the majority are thrown away. These shells are often unclean or rotten. As they are not cleaned properly they can be polluting to the environment where they are placed. It may seem like it could be beneficial to put them back into the environment in which they came from, which can be the case as shells are beneficial to the acidity levels of seawater, but this is not true for waste shells. Therefore, if materials are created that not only don’t use harmful virgin materials, but are also cleaner versions of the shells, they can actually be beneficial if degraded back into the ocean. 

Seashells are rich in calcium carbonate, otherwise known as limestone, with mollusc shells being over 95 percent of the material. Limestone is what is used to make cement, but its mining is not sustainable. This is why these waste materials could be used to make new biomaterials which are more environmentally friendly. But it is important for us not to damage environments by uprooting naturally occurring shells. Projects that use shells generally collect them from other economies where they are waste. Disrupting beaches could be harmful, and counterproductive. 


Sémiophore by Hors Studio


Design duo Rebecca Fezard and Elodie Michaud founded Hors Studio which creates transversal work that looks towards crafts and custom made products to create a better world. Their project Sémiophore is a continuation of research around the valorisation of shellfish farming waste. They have been rethinking ornaments in a ephemeral way, while also creating alternatives to standardised objects such as bricks. The biomaterial that they created uses shell waste from mussels, scallops and oysters, creating a variety of textures and colours. These different shells are mixed and bound with algae, making them completely derived from the ocean and safe to go back into the environment.


Sea Stone by Newtab-22


Waste seashells are collected from seafood and aquaculture industries to make a material by Newtab-22. Sea Stone is made by grinding down shells that are destined for landfill. These are then combined with natural non-toxic binders, such as sugar and agar, to create a material that resembles concrete. Concrete can be very hazardous to the environment so this alternative can be used as a smaller scale option. The ground shells have different sizes, textures and colours depending on the waste used, which means that each object is unique. But coloured dyes can also be used to make different options. The material is currently being developed for commercial purposes. As it is more environmentally friendly being produced at smaller scales, it is being used to make products such as decorative tiles, tabletops, plinths and vases.


Tômtex by Uyen Tran


Designer Uyen Tran has created a flexible biomaterial which acts as a leather alternative. The material is made from food waste that has been embossed to replicate popular animal based textures, to show that other alternatives are possible. Discarded seafood shells were mixed with coffee grounds, which resulted in a material which is durable but soft. By utilising materials which would have been thrown into landfill the material uses no virgin components. The biopolymer chitin was extracted from the shells, which was then mixed with natural pigments such as charcoal, ochre and coffee. Once the mixture is made it is poured into the textured mould and air-dried for two days. The final material is naturally water-resistant, and can be either recycled or be left to biodegrade.

Hors Studio
Uyen Tran