Fish and plastic pollution in ocean

Rubbish-collecting bot and dissolvable packing method win IET challenge

Image credit: Dreamstime

The IET has announced the winners of its ‘Save our Seas’ engineering challenge, which called on young people to propose solutions to help reduce the quantity of single-use plastic and cigarette butts in the oceans.

The issue of plastic pollution of the oceans has reached the public conscience in recent years, in part due to the airing of the BBC’s Blue Planet II series in late 2017. The programme was credited with inspring the BBC and the Royal Estates to ban some single-use plastics, and in the weeks after it aired, Prime Minister Theresa May laid out plans to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042.

In July, the government pledged tens of millions of pounds in public funding to support measures to reduce plastic waste, such as the development of more sustainable forms of packaging.

Meanwhile, the IET has been running its own ‘Global Challenge’, inviting young engineers to help reduce the more than eight million tonnes of plastic waste entering the oceans every year, in addition to highly toxic waste such as cigarette butts which threatens marine life.  The Greenpeace-supported side of the challenge called for solutions to tackle cigarette waste, while the GreenSeas Trust-supported aspect of the challenge called for solutions for reducing single-use plastic packaging.

Television presenter Liz Bonnin said: “Plastic is everywhere, it’s in our oceans and in the air we breathe, and is one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time. This science is irrefutable, we need to drastically reduce plastic production and consumption to safeguard the future of wildlife, our children, and our planet […] it’s incredibly heartening to see young entrepreneurs creating innovative designs to be the change the planet needs.”

The IET has now announced the winners of the challenge, who will receive a cash prize, trophy, and all-expenses-paid trip to attend the IET’s Innovation Awards ceremony in London.

The winner of the Greenpeace scenario is Team NanoMalaysia, made up of four PhD students (Ivan Ling, Pauline Phoon Bao Lee, Tan Chin Joo, and Ong Chong Cheen). The students developed the ‘PICAS block’, which provides an alternative way to package dried, loose foods using carrageenan and starch to create dissolvable food blocks. The team hopes that this could significantly reduce the amount of plastic waste used for grocery shopping.

“We’re extremely honoured to be chosen as the winner for this prestigious award,” said Ling. “We never thought a small team like ours would have the chance to travel to the UK – it’s very exciting. We plan to develop the PICAS block further and hope to have it commercialised in the near future.”

The winner of the GreenSeas Trust scenario is Oxfordshire-based Team Baywatchers (Helena Livesey, Jonathon Witty, George Fulton, Alexander Morgan). The team put forward a design for a crab-like robot called KRABB-E, which is capable of collecting cigarette butts from beaches before they are washed out to sea.

“We wanted to enter as we thought the challenge could have a real positive and global impact and we’re delighted to have won! We were quite surprised but glad all of our hard work has paid off,” said Livesey, a mechanical design engineer at the UK Atomic Energy Authority. “Engineering and technology is so vital to help tackle environmental change; we can use it to fix problems that we’ve already caused, like with the use of KRABB-E, but also to monitor and inform new technologies, helping to change behaviours and how we interact with our environment.”

Dr Peter Bonfield, IET President, commented: “This competition is all about giving young engineers a platform to highlight their innovations. By shining a light on a particular problem we’ve found that engineers think outside the box and come up with innovative solutions.”

“I’d like to congratulate Baywatchers and NanoMalaysia for their fantastic [concepts]. Previous winners of this challenge have gone on to see their innovations become a reality, so this is a great way to make a difference and solve a real-world challenge.”


Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles