This northern Japan village, known for its scallop fishing industry, has partnered with an Osaka firm to develop helmets made only from discarded shells and scrap plastic, the village and company announced here in December.
The village partnered with Koushi Chemical Industry, based in the city of Osaka, to create what they are calling the “Shellmet,” a combination of shell and helmet. The fishing industry in the Soya Subprefecture region of Hokkaido, where the village is located, produces around 40,000 metric tons of scallop shells per year that end up as waste, and making the helmets is a way to reduce that figure.
The village boasts 15% of Japan’s scallop catch, totalling around 50,000 metric tons per year. The shellfish are popular as gifts and as “hometown tax” system presents. However, aside from some that get shipped overseas for reuse, most of the scallop shells are piled up in designated spots in the village after processing. Since 2021, exports have slowed, leading to concerns over how to maintain the shell mounds and their environmental impact.
The project sprang to life around one year ago, when someone at Koushi noticed posts on social media about Sarufutsu’s shell problem. As the company is working on the commercialisation of eco-plastics using egg shells, a proposal was made to also use the scallop shells. Since the shells were originally meant to keep the little ocean denizens’ safe, Koushi came up with the idaea of using them once again for protection — as helmets worn by fishermen.
The company is calling the mixture of plastic leftovers from product manufacturing and scallop shells “shellstic.” The company claims that making the new upcycled material produces as much as 36% fewer carbon emissions compared to pumping out all-new plastic, while also being around 33% stronger than the regular material.
At the Dec. 14, 2022 presentation in the village, Shellmets were presented to the village’s fishing association. Mayor Koichi Ito said, “After thinking of ways to make use of the shells for a number of years, we arrived at a way that also tackles our sustainable development goals (SDGs),” adding that he wants to share the beloved scallops around the world.
The helmets feature a shell-inspired design and will be offered in five aquatic-themed colours such as coral white and ocean blue. Aside from being worn by local scallop fishermen, the village plans to include the helmets as a “hometown tax” gift, and keep a supply on hand for emergencies.
Priced at 4,800 yen (about $36.40) including tax, they are now available for advance order on the crowdfunding site Makuake before their general release sometime this spring.