Fish-waste plastic crowned winner of 2019 global James Dyson Award

14 Nov 2019

Lucy Hughes with the MarinaTex plastic. Image: James Dyson Award

With a new bioplastic made from ocean waste, Lucy Hughes will now try to improve its design and reduce plastic’s harm on the oceans.

For her efforts to combat the scourge of plastic waste in the world’s oceans, 24-year-old University of Sussex student Lucy Hughes has been named the global winner of this year’s James Dyson Award, which comes with a €35,000 prize. The award is open to young inventors across the world who have created devices or concepts that could make a positive difference to the world.

Her invention, called MarinaTex, is a bioplastic made from organic fish waste and red algae. While appearing almost identical to plastic, being both flexible and translucent, its similarities end there.

Using a unique formula of red algae to bind the proteins extracted from fish waste, MarinaTex is strong, flexible and biodegrades in just four to six weeks. Hughes also said that the bioplastic is suitable for home composting as it does not leach toxins. Additionally, its use of by-products from the fishing industry helps close the loop of an existing waste stream for a more circular product lifespan.

By her estimates, one Atlantic cod could generate enough waste to produce 1,400 bags of the bioplastic.

Commenting on her work, James Dyson said: “MarinaTex elegantly solves two problems: the ubiquity of single-use plastic and fish waste.

“Further research and development will ensure that MarinaTex evolves further, and I hope it becomes part of a global answer to the abundance of single-use plastic waste.”

The runners-up

The runners-up hail from the UK and Australia, respectively. The first is Anna Bernbaum of the Dyson School of Design Engineering at Imperial College London.

Her invention, Afflo, is an AI-enabled wearable device that monitors asthmatic symptoms and predicts triggers. It collects respiratory audio signals through a specialised microphone and pairs this with environmental information, with the findings presented to the user through an app.

The second runner-up is Ryan Tilley of RMIT University in Melbourne, who invented Gecko Traxx, a portable and affordable manual wheelchair accessory that allows for off-road access, especially on coastlines.

This year’s awards were notable for having the highest number of women entrants in its 15-year history, with all of Ireland’s participants in the final event being women.

One of these Irish teams to make it to the global final was also focused on the reduction of single-use plastics. Máire Kane and Hannah Grogan – both aged 22 – of the National College of Art and Design were selected for the creation of a repeat-use medical kit.

The Personal Patient Pack transports an individual patient’s items in sterile pockets so they can be reused multiple times, dramatically reducing the quantities of medical waste.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic