Meet the Innovators Saving the World From Plastic

by Liz Watson May 16, 2017

Meet the Innovators Saving the World From Plastic

People are pretty innovative. We’ve always come up with solutions to our problems, whether that’s making rudimentary boats to search for food or coming up with the whole knitting process to clothe ourselves and keep out the cold.

Well, now some pretty clever men and women are putting their substantial brains to solving one of our biggest problems - plastic pollution.

As problems go it’s a biggy; after all, we produce 300 million tonnes of plastic each year and by 2050 it’s estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea!

But with their edible water balloons, tasty cutlery and bacteria eating plastic these anti-plastic innovators are hoping to help us clean up our act.


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Read on to learn more.


Meet our anti-plastic innovators


Ooho - the water bottle you can eat

Ooho water bottle - copyright Ooho

Say what now?

Ooho is the brainchild of Skipping Rocks Labs. Essentially, Ooho is an edible water bottle - yes, you read that right.  It’s basically an edible ball, made from seaweed extract, which contains water. The ball itself is fully biodegradable and tasteless, though apparently flavours can be added!  

Who’s behind this?
Skipping Rocks Labs was founded by a trio of London-based design students wanting to create a series of sustainable projects - Ooho is the first of these. The company is supported by researchers at Imperial College London and is backed by a series of advisors.

The science bit
Ooho is, made completely from plants and seaweed. According to its creators, it is biodegradable in 4-6 weeks and uses five times less CO2 and nine times less energy than PET. Skipping Rocks labs also claim that it is cheaper to produce than plastic!

In their own words
According to their website, “The aim of Ooho is to provide the convenience of plastic bottles while limiting the environmental impact”.

Wrapping up:
Ooho is currently only sold at events. It has featured in pop-ups, festivals, private conferences in the US and UK.


Cutlery that’s also a course

Bakeys - cutlery that you can eat


Say what now?
Not every solution to plastic pollution is an edible one, but this one sounds delicious. Bakeys Foods produce cutlery that you can eat as an alternative to disposable cutlery - both the plastic and the bamboo kind.  

Who’s behind this?
The genius behind Bakeys Foods is Narayana Peesapaty, a former researcher at the  International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). He founded the company in 2010 and in 2016 launched a series of crowd funders in order to get the product to market.

The science bit
The edible cutlery is made out of sorghum, a type of millet. Even their choice of material has an environmental reasoning behind it. By choosing millet as the material for their edible cutlery Bakeys Foods intend to encourage its growth and reverse the groundwater depletion that is occurring in India due to the over-cultivation of rice - a highly water intensive crop.

In their own words
Our cutlery is made of flours of jowar (sorghum) blended with rice and wheat. They contain NO chemicals/preservatives/fat/plasticizers, emulsifiers, artificial colour or milk products. In fact they contain nothing that is not a plant product (except salt, which we add for taste). It is 100% natural, biodegradable/ vegetarian and vegan”.

Wrapping up:
Bakeys Food currently only sell their edible cutlery in India. However, if you’re interested in bulk orders or international orders you can contact them to discuss your requirements.


Water waste baskets

Sea scene

Say what now?

The Seabin is, well, a bin for the sea, only a lot, lot, cleverer than that.  The Seabin is basically a floating rubbish bin that can be used at Marinas, docks, commercial seaports etc. The V5 version of the Seabin launched on a trial basis across three locations on April 21st.

Who’s behind this?
Managing director and founder of The Seabin project, Pete Ceglinski is, as well as being an all-around ocean loving guy, an expert in product design and boat building. Ceglinski is joined by fellow sailor, co-founder, and inventor Andrew Turton - who came up with the idea after years of seeing rubbish floating around in harbours.  Turton and Ceglinski are joined by a wider team of experts who help drive the Seabin project forward.

The science bit
The Seabin moves up and down with the tide collecting floating rubbish. This floating rubbish is sucked in from the surface and passes through the catch bag inside. The water that is collected is then pumped back into the ocean, leaving the rubbish inside to be disposed of properly.  It even has the potential to collect oil and pollutants from the water’s surface.  Seabins are powered by 12-volt submersible water pumps but can also use solar, wave or wind technology.

In their own words
The Seabin however, is only one small part of a larger solution in the battle against global oceanic littering with the real solution being education. That’s why we have Seabin Project, to address the problem at hand and also implement steps for a better educated and informed future for our oceans and environment”.

Wrapping up:
Sales for the V5 Seabin will begin at the end of the three-month trial period that it is currently undergoing. As the team behind it point out it is only one weapon in the battle against plastic pollution in our oceans. To win the war we need to start looking at the cause.  


Worming out

Plastic bottles


Say what now?

Scientists have discovered a plastic eating worm. More accurately they’ve discovered that the larvae of the wax moth, which are traditionally bred as fish bait, are rather partial to a bit of polythene. The worms have something of a varied diet, eating beeswax in the wild.

Who’s behind this?
This rather surprising discovery was made by scientist and amateur beekeeper Federica Bertocchini. When she noticed that these worms had eaten through a stray plastic bag she, as a researcher at the Spanish National Research Council, teamed up with scientists at Cambridge University to investigate further.

The science bit
In a laboratory environment, it was discovered that 100 worms can devour 92 milligrams of polyethylene in as little as 12 hours. However,  there’s a catch. Scientists do not yet know if the worms are eating the plastic in order to escape from it or if they can use it as a legitimate food source. If it is the former then the likelihood is that the worms will get bored pretty quickly.  

In their own words
“[...]  we need to be careful about plastic waste, and what we are studying might help for minimising that,”

Wrapping up:
According to reports, scientists hope that they will be able to identify the enzymes being produced by these worms when they start eating plastic. This could then be put in bacteria which would help break down plastic pollution in the real world.   


LDPE - Emulsifiers, Cleaners and Textiles

Textiles

Say what now?
LDPE is also known as low-density polyethylene. To you and I, it’s the stuff that makes up things like freezer bags. The thing with LDPE is that it is not recyclable, but people tend to put it into their recycling bins anyway; this then messes up the recycling  machines.  One startup,  BioCellection think that they have hit on the solution. By using genetic engineering BioCellection aim to turn LDPE into chemical compounds. These compounds can then be used as emulsifiers or cleansers in cosmetics to textile manufacturing.

Who’s behind this?
BioCellection is a Californian startup and the brainchild of Jeanny Yao and Miranda Wang. Miranda Wang has conducted a variety of plastic-related research projects at the National Research Council Canada in Montreal and independent research projects with Penn Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Jeanny Yao was named Canada’s Top 20 Under 20 and the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus Top Student in Physical and Environmental Sciences. Both Jeanny and Miranda are from China and now live in the US.

The science bit
BioCellection uses chemical treatments to break down LDPE into small carbon-based molecules into powder form. This powder is placed in a bioreactor with genetically engineered bacteria that has been designed to eat this powder and produce a lipid that can be used as an emulsifier or cleanser as a byproduct.

In their own words
“We are aiming to make sustainable biological products using the most problematic, unrecyclable mixed plastic waste as the starting material,” Wang told the Guardian.

Wrapping up:
BioCellection is approaching the problem of plastic waste by using genetic engineering to turn what would otherwise be waste into a useful product.


These five anti-plastic innovators are just some of the brains that are leading the fight against plastic. However, as innovative as all the above are and as important as they are in reducing the plastic that is already waste, what’s really needed is to reduce our plastic consumption.

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Liz Watson
Liz Watson

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