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Inventor Wins Prize for ‘Plastic’ From Fish Waste

Product design graduate Lucy Hughes holds up a sheet of MarinaTex - an edible and compostable plastic alternative made from byproducts of the fishing industry and other natural ingredients which has won the James Dyson Award.
Inventor WIns Prize for 'Plastic' From Fish Waste
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A 23-year-old British woman has invented a product she hopes will one day replace single-use plastic.

The new product is made by combining fishing waste and algae. It could be used to replace plastic bags or containers that people use once and throw away.

Lucy Hughes created the material, called MarinaTex, for her final year project at the University of Sussex. The Reuters news agency says she continued her research after she left the university.

On November 13, the James Dyson Foundation announced that Hughes was the international winner of the 2019 James Dyson Award for design.

MarinaTex is edible, meaning it can be eaten without danger. Hughes says it also is strong and stable. But unlike plastic, MarinaTex biodegrades in four to six weeks under normal conditions and does not pollute the soil.

The inventor said she is concerned about the growing amounts of plastics in ocean waters. She noted one report that there would be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by the year 2050.

The United Nations estimates that 100 million tons of plastic waste has already been left in the oceans.

Hughes also was investigating ways to reduce the amount of waste from the fishing industry. The industry produces an estimated 50 million tons of waste worldwide each year, UN officials say.

Hughes told Reuters that she was “trying to work out how I could use [the] waste stream and add value to that waste.”

Examining fish parts left over from processing helped to give her the idea for a material that was useful and did not harm the environment.

“Why do we need to have hundreds of man-made polymers when nature has so many already available?” she asked.

To create a strong material, Hughes added the molecule chitosan, which comes from sea creatures like crabs, and agar, a substance from red algae.

After months of testing, Hughes produced a strong, flexible sheet that forms at temperatures below 100 degrees Celsius.

Inventor James Dyson said that MarinaTex is “stronger, safer and much more sustainable” than the plastic polyethylene. It is also easier to break down, or compost, than other possible replacement products for polyethylene, the material that single-use plastic bags are made of.

Hughes will receive about $41,000 in prize money as the first place winner of the James Dyson Award. She told Reuters that she plans to use the money to further develop the product and ways to mass produce it.

“Further research and development will ensure that MarinaTex evolves further, and…becomes part of a global answer to the abundance of single use plastic waste,” Dyson said.

I’m Mario Ritter Jr.

Stuart McDill reported this story for Reuters. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted the story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

algae n. a simple, nonflowering plant that grows in water

stable – adj. having a chemical structure or physical state that does not change easily

biodegrade – v. to break down into simpler substances

polymer – n. a chemical compound made of smaller molecules linked together to form large repeating structures

flexible – adj. easily bent

evolve – v. to change and develop slowly over time

abundance – n. a large amount of something

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