Innovations That Matter

7 Innovations Protecting the Oceans From Plastic Waste

Innovation Snapshot

Innovators are continuing to develop solutions to reducing plastic waste and keeping it out of our oceans.

The environmental cost of polluting our oceans with plastic is well-established — from threatening the well-being of marine life to contaminating food and water supplies.

Our friends at Plastic Odyssey say that 19 tonnes of plastic are dumped into the ocean — the equivalent of a garbage truck — every minute. Marine plastic pollution has impacted at least 267 species globally, including 86 per cent of all sea turtle species and 44 per cent of all seabird species, according to cleanwater.org.

Whilst the numbers are frightening, innovators are continuing to develop solutions to reducing plastic waste and keeping it out of our oceans.

“There is no silver bullet solution to the ocean plastic problem. The good news is there are hundreds of ways to solve it! We need a multidisciplinary and multicultural approach, tackling the issue from all angles,” says Emily Penn, a leading ocean advocate, Co-Founder and Director of eXXpedition

Here is a roundup of our favourite ideas spotted by Springwise in recent months.

1. MICROPLASTIC COLLECTION DEVICE REDUCES VEHICLE TYRE POLLUTION

Created by The Tyre Collective, the electrostatic collection device sits behind a tyre close to the road. Microplastic pollution from tyres is a significant ocean pollutant and is likely to increase in volume as electric vehicles (EV) become more common. That is because the weight of the batteries in EVs causes more wear and tear on tyres.

The end result is fewer exhaust fumes, and more microplastics, which can become airborne and thus present no less of a danger to human and environmental health than the emissions from gas-powered vehicles.

Read more about The Tyre Collective’s device.

Photo source: Selina Bubendorfer on Unsplash

2. NO-TRACE PLASTIC REDUCES MARINE POLLUTION AND GHOST FISHING

Chemists at the University of Cornell have developed a polymer that degrades quickly in sunlight, but that still maintains the strength of industrial-grade plastics. The aim is to provide a no-trace plastic that can reduce marine pollution and ghost fishing.

Lost or abandoned fishing gear is a major source of the pollution present in the Pacific Garbage Patch. Nets, traps, and trawls are made of industrial-grade plastics, and thus take hundreds of years to degrade, killing marine life in the process. The new plastic, developed by Cornell University, is called isotactic polypropylene oxide, or iPPO for short. iPPO is similar to nylon-6,6 in sturdiness and its ability to maintain stability under adverse conditions. For this reason, nylon-6,6 is used in fishing nets and ropes. However, unlike nylon-6,6, iPPO can degrade under any conditions with sunlight.

Read more about iPPO.

Photo source Petit Pli

3. REUSABLE FACE MASKS MADE FROM RECYCLED PLASTIC BOTTLES

After a surge in plastic pollution from disposable personal protective equipment, Petit Pli designed a washable fabric face mask made from recycled plastic bottles. Made from recycled plastic bottles, the Beta (MSK) follows the contours of the face and is supported at the neck to provide optimal comfort.  

The Beta (MSK) design creates as little fabric waste as possible, with the hard-wearing fabric made from 100 per cent recycled polyester from recycled plastic bottles. It can be machine washed at 30 degrees Celsius and is reusable.

Read more about Petit Pli’s mask.

Photo source: Sergei Tokmakov on Pixabay

4. WATER-RESISTANT AND BIODEGRADABLE PLANT-BASED PLASTIC

There are now said to be 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of the ocean – and the total is increasing by around 8 million pieces of plastic every day. Although plastics that biodegrade in water are already in use, a group of researchers at Japan’s Osaka University have developed an alternative type of plastic which is not only biodegradable in seawater but is also water-resistant under normal use.

The plastic is made from cellulose nanofibers and starch, both of which were extracted from plants. The researchers have developed a process that can improve the water-resistance and strength of the composite so that it could be used in the same way as petroleum-based plastics. However, the plastic also breaks down after an extended period in seawater. By using low-cost, plant-based materials, the cost of the plastic is kept low and at the same time, fewer greenhouse gases are emitted, because no petroleum products are used.

Read more about the biodegradable plastic.

Photo source: PlanetCare

5. WASHING MACHINE FILTER CAPTURES MICROPLASTICS

More people seem to be waking up to the problem of microplastics. When clothes made from synthetic fibres are washed, millions of tiny particles of plastic are released into drains, through water treatment plants and out into our rivers, lakes and oceans, where they cause great damage. A Slovenian startup, PlanetCare, has come up with a way to remove microplastics before they go down the drain.

PlanetCare has developed a filter which can be attached to a washing machine, and which can catch around 90 per cent of the fibres shed from clothes. The cartridges need to be changed monthly, and the used ones can be sent back to PlanetCare, which cleans and returns them to customers. PlanetCare has plans to recycle the microplastics it collects in the cartridges, back into the backing material used in car upholstery.

Read more about PlanetCare.

Photo source Takataka Plastics

6. UGANDAN PROJECT RECYCLES PLASTIC WASTE INTO CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS

In Uganda, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles have a low recycling value. As a result, discarded PET bottles are usually either burned or strewn across streets and fields as litter. To make matters worse, PET is very difficult to process. Uganda was stuck with no way to reduce its mountains of PET waste until Paige Balcom, a PhD student in mechanical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley came up with an idea. 

Balcom had earlier spent time in Uganda on a Fulbright scholarship and was looking for a way to help her friends there to improve their environment. Her idea was to develop small machines that can sort, shred and melt the plastic to allow it to be reformed into new materials. She partnered with Peter Okwoko, a Ugandan entrepreneur and educator, and the pair came up with their business, Takataka Plastic.

Read more about Takataka Plastic.

Photo source: Justin Sablich/Springwise

7. OCEAN SOLE AFRICA TURNS BEACH WASTE INTO ART

A company in Ponte Vedra has developed an innovative and creative way to tackle the beach pollution problem. Erin Smith, the mastermind of the project, was inspired by a trip to North Kenya, where she saw women using rubbish they found from the beach to make toys for the children in the tribe. Smith decided to found Ocean Sole Africa, a social enterprise company that uses flip-flops found on beaches to make art. 

As the main form of footwear in Kenya is flipflops, the material is easy to come by and makes the art varied and interesting, compiled as it is of manifold colours, details and sizes from the flipflops. When the flip-flop debris is collected, it is shipped to the headquarters in Palm Valley, where it is cleaned, glued and made into large, colourful animal sculptures.

Read more about Ocean Sole Africa.

This Innovation Snapshot is brought to you by Plastic Odyssey, an expedition across 3 continents that will reach areas most affected by plastic pollution and develop local solutions. Click here to learn more.