By now you’ve heard about the problem: All of Creation seems to be full of plastic pollution, including the world’s oceans. Could the solution to that problem also be found in those same waters?
Meet Lucy Hughes. She’s a 23-year-old product design student at England’s University of Sussex. Lucy spends a lot of time handling fish guts, and she just won a design award for it! The James Dyson Award recognizes students who “design something that solves a problem.”
Lucy opens a giant plastic bin filled with a slimy assortment of entrails. What did she make from these reeking leftovers that deserved the attention of the Dyson committee?
“I created ‘MarinaTex’ for my final year project. It’s a biodegradable material sourced from organic materials. So [I’m] using waste from the fishing industry and combining it to create a plastic film alternative,” she says.
MarinaTex is a word combo. It combines marina, as in a place for boats, and texfrom textile. Hughes’ plastic alternative is made from the bits of food fish that people don’t like to eat. Especially, Lucy says, she uses the fishes’ skin and scales. Other ingredients include red algae and shells from crustaceans.
The student ran through more than 100 different experiments before she found the right formula. She had a little help from Internet communities that specialize in bioplastics.
“Essentially when I felt the skins and the scales in my hands, I could see that there was potential locked up in it. It was so flexible yet pliable and strong. So it struck me that nature can make so much from so little. Why do we need to have hundreds of man-made polymers when nature has so many already available?” Hughes explains.
Plastic pollution is big problem for the world. Hughes hopes that using biodegradable alternatives like MarinaTex will reduce the problem of plastic pollution, replacing items like plastic shopping bags.
The Dyson Award granted Lucy Hughes about $40,000. How will she use the money? “It’s going to hugely help in developing MarinaTex.” She plans to enter “the next stage of R and D (research and development) and also [use the funds as] a huge kickstart in hopefully producing this worldwide.”
(Product design graduate Lucy Hughes holds up a sheet of MarinaTex—an edible and compostable plastic alternative made from byproducts of the fishing industry. REUTERS/ Stuart McDill)