Rania Elkalla is an innovative inventor who has created a completely biodegradable alternative to plastic, which is extremely versatile, all natural, and dazzlingly beautiful. Rania Elkalla is an integrated designer with an educational background in product and graphic design, as well as experience in material science and production. Her interest in material developed from a young age. Furthermore, her idea to use nutshells actually came from her father, who used to buy fresh nuts sealed in their natural shells. That was when she noticed how wonderful and strong the shell material was, and its resemblance to wood. Following that, she got a similar idea with eggshells.
In 2010, inventor Rania Elkalla began working her investigation into eggshells and nutshells into her bachelor thesis. She collaborated with material engineers, and her main concern was finding the right recipe for a completely sustainable and biodegradable material which didn’t break down easily.
Now, what exactly is the process?
The shells are collected, sterilized, dried and then ground down. This material is then bonded with organic and biodegradable substances. The resulting material is similar in texture to stone or ceramic and can be drilled, sanded or laser cut. Some of it is mixed with colors extracted from food ingredients. The result is that each piece produced by Shell Homage is handcrafted, unique and 100% compostable.
This is a brilliant, beautiful material which looks like marble or natural stone but is made out of food waste. In addition, the material surface varies from rough to smooth, opaque, translucent and transparent. The end material’s properties can be controlled by the production method. Finally, it can be used as a replacement for oil-based plastics and has various applications such as in interior, furniture, light design, home accessories, consumable goods, 3D printing and jewelry design. We speak to inventor Rania Elkalla to find out more about this impressive invention.
What has the reaction been like for Shell Homage here in Egypt?
People were very curious about the texture, surface, color fusion, and what the material is made from,
“…no one ever expects that it is made out of egg and nut shells.”
They get more excited when they know it is biodegradable and has a beneficial environmental impact.
Do you believe Egyptians are now more aware of the dangers which plastic use poses on the planet? How can we increase this awareness?
It’s definitely getting better than before.
We need to work with nature rather than against it.
We have to use its best methods for furthering production. To reach this point, we need to overcome certain presumptions about what our products should look like. I hope my work inspires others to do something out of food waste as well.
How do alternatives such as the one you’ve invented make a difference for the environment?
Shell Homage is a great solution for phasing out oil-based plastics, that are made with toxic materials and don’t decay…
…and replacing them with a compostable material made from natural products that are often disregarded. We try to support local farmers, shops, and restaurants and use their egg or nut shell waste.
Being a young female inventor, have you faced any sexism? If so, how did you overcome it?
I tend to see many international female entrepreneurs in this field, who are supporting each other and initiating many sustainable solutions.
The alternative you’ve created is not only practical, but also beautiful in terms of aesthetic, did you deliberately ensure that it is not only functional but that it also looks good?
Surface design is one of the main aspects which I challenge myself with. I always ensure that there is variety in the textures and to accommodate it according to its application.
Based on research, women are more interested in biodegradable products than men.
In your opinion, how can inspiring female entrepreneurs such as yourself encourage young girls to follow their dreams?
By being a good example and standing out with my work, and by showing my commitment, passion, and discipline towards my work. It is not an easy journey, but definitely worth the ride.
Most Egyptian women have had to answer the question “Hanefra7 Biki Emta” before in reference to marriage, despite any accomplishments they may have already made, what would you say in response to that question?
I hear it a lot and it is just sad that in our society, we still relate our happiness or being complete with finding the significant other.
However, I’m blessed with parents who are not pushing it. They are supportive of me when it comes to my progress, education and business. I achieved many things I never through were possible. As long as I am breathing, my story remains under construction.
With all the setbacks, comebacks, rejections, and achievements, I am proud of the woman I am becoming.